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Yesterday — July 8th 2020Your RSS feeds

SUSE acquires Kubernetes management platform Rancher Labs

By Frederic Lardinois

SUSE, which describes itself as ‘the world’s largest independent open source company,’ today announced that it has acquired Rancher Labs, a company that has long focused on making it easier for enterprises to make their container clusters.

The two companies did not disclose the price of the acquisition, but Rancher was well funded, with a total of $95 million in investments. It’s also worth mentioning that it’s only been a few months since the company announced its $40 million Series D round led by Telstra Ventures. Other investors include the likes of Mayfield and Nexus Venture Partners, GRC SinoGreen and F&G Ventures.

Like similar companies, Rancher’s original focus was first on Docker infrastructure before it pivoted to putting its emphasis on Kubernetes once that became the de facto standard for container orchestration. Unsurprisingly, this is also why SUSE is now acquiring this company. After a number of ups and downs — and various ownership changes — SUSE has now found its footing again and today’s acquisition shows that its aiming to capitalize on its current strengths.

Just last month, the company reported that the annual contract value of its booking increased by 30% year over year and that it saw a 63% increase in customer deals worth more than $1 million in the last quarter, with its cloud revenue growing 70%. While it is still in the Linux distribution business that the company was founded on, today’s SUSE is a very different company, offering various enterprise platforms (including its Cloud Foundry-based Cloud Application Platform), solutions and services. And while it already offered a Kubernetes-based container platform, Rancher’s expertise will only help it to build out this business.

“This is an incredible moment for our industry, as two open source leaders are joining forces. The merger of a leader in Enterprise Linux, Edge Computing and AI with a leader in Enterprise Kubernetes Management will disrupt the market to help customers accelerate their digital transformation journeys,” said SUSE CEO Melissa Di Donato in today’s announcement. “Only the combination of SUSE and Rancher will have the depth of a globally supported and 100% true open source portfolio, including cloud native technologies, to help our customers seamlessly innovate across their business from the edge to the core to the cloud.”

The company describes today’s acquisition as the first step in its ‘inorganic growth strategy’ and Di Donato notes that this acquisition will allow the company to “play an even more strategic role with cloud service providers, independent hardware vendors, systems integrators and value-added resellers who are eager to provide greater customer experiences.”

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Uber grocery delivery launches in Latin America and Canada, US to follow later this month

By Brian Heater

A day after acquiring Postmates for $2.65 billion, Uber has officially launched grocery delivery in select Latin American and Canadian cities. The initiative is the product of the also recently announced acquisition of Cornershop (still pending regulatory approval), back in late-2019. The Santiago, Chile-based startup brought grocery delivery to the Latin American market, before moving North to Toronto.

Today’s launch covers 19 cities in  Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia and Peru, and is set to expand to the U.S. market at some point later this month — specifically to Miami and Dallas. Members of Eats Pass and Uber Eats in those two cities will also get free grocery deliveries on orders topping $30.

Grocery delivery has become an important lifeline for many, as COVID-19 has made shopping or simply leaving the house a calculated risk. The company says demand for grocery delivery has increased 197% since March.

“Over the last six months, it’s become increasingly clear that grocery delivery is not only popular, but often a necessity,” Uber writes. “We expect to see this trend continue as people across the world look for new ways to save time and stay safe.”

Likely the surge in popularity will wane a bit, as coronavirus-related restrictions are eased, but many customers may never look back after discovering the ease of delivery. The new offering operates similarly to Uber’s other services. You do your ordering from the app and can track the driver’s progress accordingly. There’s also a no-contact option, which is all the rage in the era of COVID-19.

Following the limited launch this month, Uber will be bringing the service to additional cities around the world in “the coming months.”

Daily Crunch: Uber confirms Postmates acquisition

By Anthony Ha

You may have noticed that The Daily Crunch is publishing about six hours later than usual. Do not be alarmed! We decided that sending the newsletter later in the day was a better fit for the TechCrunch news cycle — hopefully, there will be fewer days when we hit Publish and then groan when we see a giant story break five minutes later.

We’re also taking the opportunity to rethink the newsletter format. The mission hasn’t changed — the goal is to deliver the day’s big tech headlines in an email that you can read in just a couple of minutes. But we know that different readers are focused on different areas of TechCrunch’s coverage, so moving forward, The Daily Crunch will be organized to make it easier to find the news that interests you.

Without further ado: Here’s your Daily Crunch for July 6, 2020.

The big story: Uber confirms Postmates acquisition

The reports last week were true: Uber announced today that it’s acquiring Postmates in an all-stock deal worth $2.65 billion. It looks like the restaurant delivery market is consolidating — Uber previously tried to acquire Grubhub, which ended up selling to the European company Just Eat Takeaway instead. The company said Postmates will continue to operate as a standalone app, but tech and delivery operations will be consolidated.

Meanwhile, Alex Wilhelm took a close look at Uber’s finances to help Extra Crunch readers understand why the company’s stock is up today, arguing that the acquisition could help Uber Eats “grow more quickly while bringing down its losses as a percent of revenue.”

The tech giants

US tech giants halt Hong Kong police help — After the Chinese government has passed a new security law undermining protections for Hong Kong, both Facebook and Twitter said that they will no longer process demands for user data from Hong Kong authorities. (In Facebook’s case, this also applies to WhatsApp.)

Instagram Reels tested in India following TikTok’s ban — Instagram may be taking advantage of India’s decision to ban TikTok by expanding its Reels feature, which allows users to create 15-second videos set to music.

Intel to invest $253.5 million in India’s Reliance Jio Platforms — Intel joins General Atlantic, Facebook and Silver Lake as an investor in India’s top telecom operator.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Here’s a list of tech companies that the SBA says took PPP money — Bolt Mobility, Getaround, Luminar, Stackin, TuSimple and Velodyne all took loans of $150,000 or more from the Paycheck Protection Program, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. But confusingly, some of the firms on the list (including Bird and Index) denied taking any loans.

Sequoia announces $1.35 billion venture and growth funds for India and Southeast Asia — Sequoia Capital India made more than 50 investments in India last year, putting it ahead of any other VC firm in the country.

Payfazz gets $53 million to give more Indonesians access to financial services — This Indonesian startup offers a number of mobile financial services, including bill payments and loans.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Four views: Is edtech changing how we learn? — Devin Coldewey, Natasha Mascarenhas, Alex Wilhelm and Danny Crichton have thoughts about whether digital learning can make quality education more accessible, or will simply widen existing divides.

As COVID-19 surges, 3D printing is having a moment — 3D printing has fallen out of the spotlight over the past couple of years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has changed all that.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, designed to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

‘Hamilton’ gives Disney+ a holiday weekend bump in US, with app downloads up 74% — That’s according to data from Apptopia.

Original Content podcast: ‘Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga’ is a goofy delight — Every week, Darrell Etherington, Jordan Crook and I review the latest streaming movies and shows in a freewheeling discussion. In this episode, we were all pleasantly surprised by the new Will Ferrell movie on Netflix.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Why investors are cheering the Uber-Postmates deal

By Alex Wilhelm

This morning as the markets rally, shares of Lyft are up 3% while Uber shares are up 6%.

Why is Uber so far ahead of Lyft, its domestic ride-hailing rival that is suffering from the same economic impacts? It appears that investors are heartened that Uber has closed its Postmates acquisition after both firms danced around each other for some time, leading to all sorts of leaks that wound up being not coming true.


The Exchange is a daily look at startups and the private markets for Extra Crunch subscribers; use code EXCHANGE to get full access and take 25% off your subscription


This explains why Uber investors are excited about Uber’s Postmates buy; what about the smaller company is making Uber shares so buoyant? Let’s take a walk through the numbers this morning.

If we reexamine Uber Eats’ recent growth, contrast it to Ubers Rides’ own growth, mix in Eats’ profitability improvements along with Postmates’ own financial results, we can start to see why public investors might be heartened by the deal.

Afterward, we’ll toss in a note about how Postmates may provide Uber some narrative ammunition heading into earnings. This exercise should be fun, and a good break from our recent IPO coverage. Let’s get into the numbers.

Growth, losses

In case you are behind, Uber is buying Postmates for $2.65 billion in an all-cash deal. Uber estimated that it would issue around 84 million shares to pay for the transaction. At its share price as of the time of writing, the deal is worth $2.72 billion at Uber’s newer share price. For reference, that price tag is about 4.8% of Uber’s current-moment market cap.

To understand why Uber would spend nearly 5% of its worth to buy a smaller rival, let’s remind ourselves of the performance of the group that it will plug into, namely Uber Eats.

From Uber’s Q1 2020 financial reporting, the following chart will ground our exploration, showing how Eats has performed in recent quarters:

Via Uber’s financial reporting. Q1 2019 on the left, Q1 2020 on the right.

Equity Monday: Uber-Postmates is announced, three funding rounds and narrative construction

By Alex Wilhelm

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday, our week-starting primer in which we go over the latest news, dig into the week ahead, talk about some neat funding rounds and dive into the latest big news from the startup world. (You can follow the show on Twitter here, and myself here, if you are so inclined! Don’t forget to check out last Friday’s episode as well. All the cool kids are doing it.)

What a weekend! After some quiet, somewhat dull off-week periods, this weekend brought us twists and turns that were good fun. Most dealt with a possible Uber -Postmates tie up, so we wrote the show to talk about the transaction’s unconfirmed nature.

Then, it got confirmed. So, here’s the second edition of today’s Equity Monday, recast due to the deal’s official nature:

  • Uber will buy Postmates for $2.65 billion in an all-stock transaction. Uber shares were up this morning ahead of the open on the wings of the rumor — wings that beat even harder after the deal was confirmed. Uber investors seem pleased, for now, that after losing out on Grubhub their company has managed to buy a smaller player. Doing so may give Uber more leverage over restaurants and drivers, and boost Uber’s H2 2020 revenue numbers that will still be impacted by COVID-19 and its resulting economic impacts.
  • Q3 earnings don’t kick off for tech and other VC-backed companies for a bit, and heading into the week the public markets are up. Despite all the bad news. The inverse correlation between bad news (short-term, economic) and stock market gains is slowly moving from joke to sordid reality.
  • This week we’re keeping tabs on U.S. and Chinese economic data, the geopolitical situation in Hong Kong and the India-China border, and Q2 VC data as it comes out.
  • We also dug into three funding rounds this morning, detailing Scalefast raising $22 million, DigniFi raising $14 million and AirVet raising $14 million as well. More international rounds to come, we promise.

We wrapped this morning wondering if Postmates can provide a narrative boost to Uber, a company that isn’t going to have the best Q2 numbers in its history. With Postmates tucked under its arm going into the earnings call, Uber can double-down on its Uber Eats narrative, flash Postmates around the room and promise that Rides data will get better as well.

Perhaps that would be enough?

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PT and Friday at 6:00 a.m. PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Uber confirms it is acquiring Postmates in an all-stock, $2.65B deal

By Ingrid Lunden

Competition continues to heat up in the food delivery wars. In the latest development, Uber today announced that it has acquired Postmates in a $2.65 billion, all-stock deal. It plans to run the business alongside its own food delivery business, Uber Eats, keeping the Postmates app running while merging some of the tech and delivery operations at the back end — for example, by having drivers delivering orders for both businesses.

The deal confirms reports that emerged last week, and got re-reported last night with more financial detail, that Postmates and Uber were in negotiations. That deal itself sprung up in the wake of Uber failing to acquire another competitor, Grubhub, which was instead acquired by Europe’s takeout behemoth Just Eat Takeaway for $7.3 billion.

“Uber and Postmates have long shared a belief that platforms like ours can power much more than just food delivery—they can be a hugely important part of local commerce and communities, all the more important during crises like COVID-19. As more people and more restaurants have come to use our services, Q2 bookings on Uber Eats are up more than 100% year on year. We’re thrilled to welcome Postmates to the Uber family as we innovate together to deliver better experiences for consumers, delivery people, and merchants across the country,” said Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi in a statement.

“Over the past eight years we have been focused on a single mission: enable anyone to have anything delivered to them on-demand. Joining forces with Uber will continue that mission as we continue to build Postmates while creating an even stronger platform that brings this mission to life for our customers. Uber and Postmates have been strong allies working together to advocate and create the best practices across our industry, especially for our couriers. Together we can ensure that as our industry continues to grow, it will do so for the benefit of everyone in the communities we serve,” said Postmates co-founder and CEO Bastian Lehmann in his statement.

Uber in its news announcement described Postmates as “highly complementary” to Uber Eats, citing the two companies’ differing geographic focuses and target demographics and noting that Postmates has strong relationships with small- and medium-sized restaurants and other businesses that are loyal to the Postmates brand, which covers not only food but delivery of other items, too.

On the other hand, Uber noted that together they’ll build better tools and technology for their merchant and restaurant partners, and that these will have a wider user base now to tap. That last point somewhat contradicts the lack of overlap between the two, so we’ll have to see how that actually plays out.

The all-stock deal valuation that Uber is paying out is a slight bump on Postmates’ last valuation of $2.4 billion, which it reached in September 2019 on the back of a private equity round (it had raised just over $900 million in total over 10 years). But with the “money” all in paper, it puts a lot of pressure both on Postmates and Uber to continue to deliver on growth — pun intended.

For Uber, Uber Eats has been one good news story amid what has otherwise been a very tough life as a publicly listed company. That predicament has taken on a more critical edge in recent months through the COVID-19 pandemic.

In its last quarterly earnings results, the Uber Eats business grew 52% and managed to somewhat offset a big decline in its ride-hailing revenues. In both cases, you can draw a line from the results to social distancing requirements that people have been following around the world: consumers have been staying home more and ordering take-out food to be delivered to them; and at the same time they have been staying away from shared, small spaces, such the ones that you might encounter in an Uber ride. However, with the boost at Uber Eats, the company lost $3 billion last quarter.

The trend of those numbers is one reason why Uber has been looking to expand its food delivery business. The other is the one that has been motivating the larger consolidation trend in food delivery, and that is the principle of economies of scale and how that plays out in terms of operational expenditures, with single drivers able to cover more restaurants and orders, and also the costs of operating the business.

The wider business model requires a lot of subsidising to grow, so taking out a competitor somewhat reduces that kind of costly competitive pressure. It doesn’t eradicate it completely, though: DoorDash and Grubhub (now supercharged with Just Eat Takeaway profits and financial muscle) are still around and will represent strong alternatives both for consumers and restaurants looking for delivery partners.

The public markets is a tough place to play out a growth story for a company that is still profoundly in the red like Uber. In that regard, it’s an ironic place for Postmates to land.

The latter had also been eyeing up a public listing, going so far as to confidentially file for an IPO in February 2019. “Choppy” market forces got the better of it, however, and it put off the plans. Although there were rumors even as recently as last week that the company was still considering this option, in retrospect, that was quite possibly a report planted and spun by those hoping to hedge a better deal out of Uber.

 

Uber reportedly agrees to acquire Postmates for $2.65 billion

By Catherine Shu

Uber has reportedly agreed to buy Postmates in an all-stock deal worth $2.65 billion. According to Bloomberg, the deal may be announced on Monday morning.

Like other travel- and transportation-related businesses, Uber’s ride-hailing segment has been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, due to shelter-in-place orders throughout the United States. On-demand delivery, however, has grown, with people relying on services like Uber Eats to get food without leaving their homes. According to its last earnings report, Uber’s ride-hailing gross bookings dropped, but its food delivery service saw gross sales growth of 54% during its first fiscal quarter.

According to previous reports, Uber made an offer to buy Grubhub, another on-demand delivery service, earlier this year, but after that deal fell through, it approached Postmates. Bloomberg reports that Uber and Postmates have actually talked on and off for about four years, but negotiations became more intense about a week ago.

Grubhub ended up being acquired by Just Eat Takeway in a deal worth $7.3 billion after its negotiations with Uber stalled.

With its last venture valuation of $2.4 billion in September 2019, Postmates is a smaller company than Grubhub. The company confidentially filed to go public in February 2019, but decided to hold off because of “choppy market” conditions. There was one report as late as last week claiming that Postmates would be putting in a public IPO filing this week with a target valuation of $3.9 billion — possibly a story seeded in an attempt to raise the valuation in the midst of negotiations.

If the deal goes through, the main competitors in the American food delivery market would be Uber Eats/Postmates versus Grubhub/Takeaway versus DoorDash.

In other countries, companies like Grab have also begun building out their on-demand delivery services to make up for losses from fewer ride-hailing bookings. For example, Grab responded to stay-at-home orders in Indonesia (its main market) and other Southeast Asian countries by re-deploying ride-hailing drivers to on-demand deliveries for food and essential items.

The Station: The startups edition

By Kirsten Korosec

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

Hello and welcome back to The Station, a newsletter dedicated to all the present and future ways people and packages move from Point A to Point B. I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch.

For all the U.S. readers here, I hope you are enjoying the holiday weekend.

I am mixing up the format this week because I am in charge here, it’s a holiday and I don’t want this newsletter to get too formulaic. So today, the newsletter will highlight a few mobility startups as well as some of their ideas that don’t typically get a lot of attention.

RVshare -rvs

Image Credits: RVshare

For those who plan to road trip this summer — or perhaps you already have — I would love to hear what it’s like out there. Figures from peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace RVshare suggest it’s crowded.

Folks over at RVshare, a peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace, told me that rental bookings are three times higher than last summer and report a 1,600% increase since early April.

“July 4th weekend is on pace to be the biggest booking period in the history of the business, by a wide margin,” CEO Jon Gray said.

Remember please reach out and email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Alrighty then, vamos.

Bikes!

The COVID-19 pandemic has crushed startups and established companies alike. Others, like Lectric eBikes have had a more fortuitous couple of quarters thanks to spiking demand for bikes during the pandemic.

The one-year-old startup based in Arizona has been swept up in the electric bike craze. The company, co-founded by 24-year-olds Levi Conlow and Robby Deziel, has generated more than $14 million in sales of its Lectric XP ebike.

Now the startup is launching a new ebike called the ‘Lectric XP Step-Thru’. Pre-orders began last week. The $899 step-thru bike folds to less than half of its size, has a top speed of 28 miles per hour, an LCD display and a 25- to 50-mile range.

Lectric eBikes - step thru

Image Credits: Lectric eBikes

Meanwhile, the better-known Rad Power Bikes has unveiled a single-speed electric bike that starts at $999. The new product, called RadMission Electric Motor Bike, comes with a 500-watt motor that provides 50 pound feet of torque, a twist grip throttle, an integrated brake light that is powered using the main battery pack, 48-volt battery pack that can travel between 25 to 45-mile range.

It’s under 50 pounds, making it 30% lighter than Rad Power’s other bikes. The bike also comes with an LED control panel where riders can control lights and pedal assistance as well as view battery and assist levels. Pre-orders are open and the company says the first Rad Mission bikes will be delivered in October.

Rad Power Bikes RadMission

Image Credits: Rad Power Bikes

Zoov, a French electric bike-sharing platform, unveiled this week a new charging station that it says improves upon traditional docking systems. The station is designed to fit four bikes within one meter compared to other systems that can only fit one bike in the same amount of space. It can also charge bikes with or without a connection to the grid. The stations that are not tied to the grid use batteries that can be swapped out and can and be set up quickly, the company says.

One of the more interesting innovations is that the bikes create a shared power connection. As bikes are parked at the station they become connected and can deliver or receive power. The transfer of energy between the bikes is controlled by an algorithm that optimizes the bikes’ charge levels – the maximum charge range is about 45 kilometers.

Each station has the capacity for up to 15 bikes. The company said it has already installed 40 of these stations.

zoov electric bike station

Image Credits: Zoov

COVID-19 inspired

I’ve been tracking the ideas and little inventions that have popped up in the past several months amid the COVID-19 pandemic. There are an abundance of little “solutions” out there, some better than others. I’ll call these out from time to time.

For instance, Nickelytics, a startup out of the latest TechStars Mobility cohort, has put a slightly modern spin on the old game of advertising on and in vehicles. The company puts ads on ride-share vehicles that travel at least 30 miles a day. It promises drivers can earn up to $500 a month. The startup’s pitch to companies is that it uses tracking technology to log each “impression,” meaning the passenger who hailed a ride. It takes that data and targets those consumers with digital ads.

The company has launched a new product that it calls “ad shield.” The idea is to protect ride-share drivers and passengers, while generating revenue. This isn’t a new idea. Anyone who has been in a taxicab in a dense urban area has certainly encountered the more permanent and robust shields set up between the front and back seats as a safety measure.

The Nickelytics ad shield is designed for ride-share, however. The plexiglass, which can be branded with a company logo or other marketing message, is flexible and can be quickly added or removed from a ride share vehicle.

nickelytics ad shield

Image Credits: Nickelytics

Apps!

A couple of transportation-related apps that are focused on safety caught my eye recently. The first is a company called !important that launched their safety app last month. The app markets itself as protection for pedestrians, bicyclists, wheelchair users, and motorcyclists from collisions with nearby connected vehicles.

Here’s the basic premise, which the app’s inventor Bastien Beauchamp, explained to me recently: the app runs in the background and acts as another sensor that will communicate with a nearby “connected car” to provide the exact location of a pedestrian or cyclist. The driver receives an alert of the approaching person. The app may even trigger the vehicle’s brakes automatically. There are a couple of catches here. The vehicle has to have an advanced driver assistance systems and the accompanying !important software for it to work. And for this to be really meaningful, Beauchamp will have to convince automakers to integrate the software into their vehicles as well as get pedestrians, cyclists and other folks to download the app.

It’s early days for !important. But Beauchamp has already made some progress. The app will be implemented starting in January 2021 in human-driven and autonomous vehicles in Reno as part of the Intelligent Mobility initiative in collaboration with the Nevada Center for Applied Research at the University of Nevada.

!Important is also in collaboration with 12 universities

Now let’s turn to the drivers. Openroad is a free app, which launched in January 2020. that detects car crashes and sends emergency responders if they’re needed. The app is only available on iOS and is coming to Android soon.

The app grew out of True Motion, a company founded in 2012 that developed a smartphone telematics platform for insurance companies. Insurance companies can use the platform to capture driving data and then offer their customers incentives for good driving behavior.

Open Road was designed as a consumer app. The app uses machine learning to detect crashes in real time and will reach out to trained responders who can send a 911 call for ambulance or police if that is needed. The data can also be used to speed up the insurance claims process for the user.

Open Road recently added an emergency contacts feature that’ll notify a  couple of designated people in the event of a crash as well as a Siri Shortcut. If a user says “Hey Siri, Request Crash Assistance” one of the Open Road trained agents will call the user immediately. The app also audio alert feature where if the user is in a crash, audio alert is triggered from their phone to let them know agents are calling.

Holiday roundup

Normally, I would break each of these out into different sections and provide some analysis and even original reporting. This week, I’m providing a mini version of my typical newsletter. Keep on reading for an overview of what happened this past week.

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

The big micromobility news this week comes from the UK, where the Department for Transport announced that it allow e-scooter rental companies to legally operate across the country. This will be a pilot program that will start no later than August. Councils and other authorities, including across London and other major cities, are working on putting together trials that could run for as long as 12 months under guidelines provided by the government.

The regulations come into force on July 4, the DfT said, with the first trials expected to begin a week later.

European micromobility company Dott reached out to let me know that it has earned approval from UK regulators to participate in the e-scooter trial. Tier Mobility is also prepped and ready. The two-year-old startup has more than 1,000 scooters in its UK warehouse. It has also hired a general manager for the UK and a head of public policy for Northern Europe. Fred Jones is the general manager for the UK and Benjamin Bell will lead public policy for Northern Europe. Both Jones and Bell formerly worked at Uber . Jones will oversee the roll-out of TIER e-scooters in UK towns and cities. While, Bell will spearhead the company’s collaboration with central and local government in the run-up to trials.

lime-jump

Image Credits: Lime

Meanwhile, Jump bikes returned to London through its new owner Lime. London is the first city in Europe to see Jump bikes return since Uber offloaded the company to Lime in a complex deal that unfolded in May. Lime raised $170 million in a funding round led by Uber, along with other existing investors Alphabet, Bain Capital Ventures and GV. As part of the deal, Lime acquired Jump, the electric bike and scooter division that Uber acquired in 2018 for around $200 million.

Earlier this year, thousands of Jump bikes were pulled off the streets in European cities such as Berlin, Brussels, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Malaga, Munich, Paris, Rome and Rotterdam. It’s unlikely that Lime will put Jump bikes back in all of these cities. Sources have said Lime plans to redeploy Jump scooters and bikes in London, Paris, Rome and Barcelona.

AVs and connectivity

the station autonomous vehicles1

BMW showed off what its new Operating System 7 software can do. Some of its ideas around deploying upgrades and features has been a bit controversial. The company said all cars equipped with its newest “Operating System 7” software will be able to receive over-the air updates and plans to charge customers who want to upgrade certain features like adding heated seats or advanced driver assistance systems.

Lyft’s self-driving vehicle division has restarted testing on public roads in California, several months after pausing operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of its autonomous vehicles are back on the road in Palo Alto and at its closed test track. The company has not resumed a pilot program that provided rides to Lyft employees in Palo Alto.

TuSimple laid out a plan to create a mapped network of shipping routes and terminals designed for autonomous trucking operations that will extend across the United States by 2024. UPS, which owns a minority stake in TuSimple, carrier U.S. Xpress, Penske Truck Leasing and Berkshire Hathaway’s grocery and food service supply chain company McLane Inc. are the inaugural partners in this so-called autonomous freight network (AFN).

Velodyne Lidar, the leading supplier of a sensor widely considered critical to the commercial deployment of autonomous vehicles, struck a deal to merge with special-purpose acquisition company Graf Industrial Corp., with a market value of $1.8 billion. Yup, another SPAC!

It’s electric

the station electric vehicles1

Daimler deepened a strategic partnership with Chinese battery cell manufacturer Farasis Energy, a deal that includes taking an equity stake of about 3%. Daimler Greater China will investing a multi-million euro amount as part of Farasis’ IPO, as part of the agreement.

EV startups in China haven’t fared so well, Automotive News reported. In June alone, at least three startups ceased operations, including Bordrin and Byton.

Lucid Motors announced that its upcoming the Air vehicle will boast a drag coefficient of 0.21, which measures the resistance of an object moving through a fluid environment, CNET’s Roadshow reported.

Rivian released a few photos of its electric truck. I put this question to the Twitterverse: what color is this? What do you think? I think the best answer might have been Werther’s Original.

Image Credits: Rivian

Tesla has opened up reservations for its all-electric Cybertruck to customers in China, a move that will test the market’s appetite for a massive, futuristic truck. The Cybertruck, which was unveiled in November at the Tesla Design Center in Hawthorne, Calif., isn’t expected to go into production until late 2022. But that hasn’t stopped thousands of U.S. consumers to plunk down a $100 refundable deposit for the truck. Now, Tesla is testing potential interest among Chinese consumers.

Tesla also reported its delivery and production numbers for the second quarter. Tesla delivered 90,650 vehicles in the second quarter, a 4.8% decline from the same period last year prompted by challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic that included suspending production for weeks at its main U.S. factory. Tesla still managed to beat expectations despite the headwinds.

Chinese EV manufacturer Xpeng Motors has started nationwide delivery of its P7 electric sports sedan to customers. The automaker received its official production license May 19 from China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology for its new factory, the Zhaoqing Xpeng Motors Intelligent Industrial Park, in Xpeng’s home Guangdong Province. Production of the P7 at Xpeng’s Zhaoqing plant has an annual capacity of 100,000 units.

Miscellaneous

Daimler is looking to sell its Smart car assembly plant in Hambach, France as part of a broad restructuring plan aimed at shoring up the company’s finances amid dampening demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The sale will cause negative one-time effect of about 500 million euros ($562 million) in the second quarter.

Jaguar Land Rover set up a subscription service called Pivotal, which is backed by the automaker’s venture capital and mobility services arm called InMotion. The subscription will give customers access to Jaguar and Land Rover models, including the All-electric Jaguar I-PACE and the latest plug-in hybrids Range Rover Evoque and Land Rover Discovery Sport.

Lincoln will end production of Continental at the end of the year.

“Lincoln is investing in growth segments and the brand will feature a full portfolio of SUVs, including a fully electric vehicle in the future,” the company said in a statement emailed to TechCrunch. “Lincoln will continue to keep its newest SUVs fresh and we will have more news to share later this year; however, as the full-size premium sedan segment continues to decline in the U.S., we plan to end production of the Lincoln Continental at the end of this year.”

To meet the needs of Chinese luxury customers, Lincoln China will offer a 2021 model year Continental next year, the company said.

Uber reportedly made an offer to buy food delivery service Postmates, reported The New York Times. Just a day after that news broke, other reports claimed that Postmates was reviving its IPO plans and possibly looking to go public with the help of a special purpose acquisition vehicle known as a SPAC.

For Postmates, a company caught somewhere between DoorDash’s cash-fueled rise and Uber’s ability to lose hundreds of millions on its Uber Eats delivery service every quarter, multiple options are likely welcome. Alex Wilhelm digs in.

Lime puts Jump bikes back on London streets

By Kirsten Korosec

Jump bikes are returning to London — this time through its new owner Lime .

London is the first city in Europe to see Jump bikes return since Uber offloaded the company to Lime in a complex deal that unfolded in May. Lime raised $170 million in a funding round led by Uber, along with other existing investors Alphabet, Bain Capital Ventures and GV. As part of the deal, Lime acquired Jump, the electric bike and scooter division that Uber acquired in 2018 for around $200 million.

When the deal closed with Lime, thousands of Jump bikes were scrapped in the United States and the entire Jump team — some 400 employees — lost their jobs. Lime closed the acquisition of Jump in Europe several weeks after the transaction closed in the U.S. Until now, it was unclear if the Jump bikes in Europe would suffer the same fate as their counterparts in the United States.

Thousands of Jump bikes were pulled off the streets in European cities such as Berlin, Brussels, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Malaga, Munich, Paris, Rome and Rotterdam. It’s unlikely that Lime will put Jump bikes back in all of these cities. Sources have said Lime plans to redeploy Jump scooters and bikes in London, Paris, Rome and Barcelona. Today’s announcement appears to be the first step.

For now, the Jump bikes will be available in the Uber app in London. The Jump bikes will be added to the Lime app at a later date as a result of ongoing systems integration, the company said. The fleet size will start at around 100 e-bikes and will grow based on demand. Pricing will be £1 unlock and 15p per minute thereafter. Bikes will be deployed in Camden and Islington, Lime said.

Demand for bikes appears to have prompted Lime to bring Jump back into service. The company said that since lockdown restrictions have eased, Lime’s e-bike rental service has seen record usage. The micromobility company said users are taking longer journeys and the bikes are being used more frequently. Lime also recorded its highest-ever usage in a single day over a weekend in mid-June with more than 4,000 new users. Lime said its e-bike network has now facilitated over 1.5 million journeys across London.

The reintroduction of Jump bikes in London is part of a broader plan by Lime to increase its presence in the city. Earlier this week, the UK announced that an e-scooter pilot program would begin Saturday. Lime said it has partnered with global insurance giant Allianz to provide coverage for Lime e-scooter riders in the UK. Lime said it co-designed a two-year safety campaign with Allianz that will run until March 2022.

The Station: Amazoox, TuSimple seeks $250M and the next e-scooter battleground

By Kirsten Korosec

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

Hi friends and first-time readers. Welcome back to The Station, a newsletter dedicated to all the present and future ways people and packages move from Point A to Point B. I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch.

Remember please reach out and email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Typically this space is where I philosophize about a specific event and emerging transportation trend. This week, let’s all take a pause to remember Jessi Combs, who was officially and posthumously declared to hold the fastest land speed record by a woman.

The Guinness Book of World Records certified this week the 522.783 mph land speed record that Combs achieved August 27, 2019 in the Alvord Desert in Oregon. Combs died after her vehicle crashed during that run. It’s the first time a new record has been set in this category in more than 40 years. Kitty O’Neil held the record with her 512.7 mph run set back in 1976.

Here’s to you Jessi, the fastest woman on earth.

Did anyone have trouble keeping up with all the deals, virtual automotive reveals and policy decisions this week? Yeah. Me too. Let’s get to it. Vamos.

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

A couple of cities are emerging as new battlegrounds for the shared e-scooter market. New York City is a biggie.

This week, the New York City Council approved a bill that will require the New York Department of Transportation to create a pilot program for the operation of shared electric scooters in the city. The DOT now has until October 15, 2020 to issue a request for proposals to participate in a shared e-scooter pilot program.

The pilot program must launch by March 1, 2021. The NY council will continue to work with DOT on determining where to set up the pilot (this is the important part). If the pilot program limits the service area it could prove a failure, several e-scooter companies and advocates told me. We know it won’t include Manhattan. That leaves four other boroughs.

Just about every e-scooter company — and a number of other less known players — are planning to apply for the permit.  The next nine months promises a lot of lobbying activity. These firms are already busy, according to our sources. Stay tuned!

The NY city council also approved two laws about the use of privately owned electric bikes and scooters.

Meanwhile, Apple has finally added a new biking feature to Maps. The newest version of iOS is bringing a host of new features to Maps, including a dedicated cycling option that will optimize paths for bicyclists and even let users know if the route includes challenging hills. Apple Maps has included public transit and walking in previous iterations. But the biking option has been the most requested, according to Apple senior director Stacey Lysik.

Deal of the week

money the station

Amazoooooxxxxx. Zamazon? It’s a thing now. In case you missed it, Amazon acquired Zoox.

There have been rumors, speculation and reports about the fate of self-driving vehicle startup for months now. The WSJ had the first report in May that Amazon was in talks to acquire the self-driving company.

The official announcement, which was issued Friday morning, didn’t reveal much about the terms of the deal except that Zoox CEO Aicha Evans and co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson will continue to lead Zoox as a standalone business.

As you might expect, there was nary a financial figure in sight. The Financial Times put the deal at $1.2 billion and The Information pegged it at “more than $1 billion.” Either way, the acquisition price was well below the $3.2 billion valuation Zoox had achieved two years before.

It wasn’t a secret that Zoox was struggling to raise a large enough round. As I’ve stated numerous times before, Zoox has the kind of ambitions that require a mountain of capital. And by mountain, I mean far north of $1 billion. The company isn’t just building the full self-driving stack — essentially the suite of hardware and software that replaces a human driver. It took on the design and development of a new bidirectional electric vehicle with no steering wheel  and it plans to operate a ride-hailing service as well.

The upshot: Zoox didn’t have a lot of options. Many automakers, Tier 1 suppliers and tech companies had already formed their various alliances and partnerships, leaving Zoox on its own. Amazon certainly has the resources to help it hit its lofty goals. That is, IF Amazon doesn’t change those goals for Zoox. For now, Amazon is publicly sticking to Zoox’ mission to build and operate a fleet of robotaxis.

And we can expect more Amazon flexing in the transportation industry. The e-commerce announced this week a $2 billion Climate Pledge Fund to invest in sustainable technologies and services that will help the company reach its commitment to be net-zero carbon in its operations by 2040. Some of that coin will go towards automation and transportation.

amazon zoox

Other deals that got our attention ….

Self-driving truck startup TuSimple has hired investment bank Morgan Stanley to help it raise $250 million, multiple sources told me. Morgan Stanley recently sent potential investors an informational packet, which I also viewed, that provides a snapshot of the company and an overview of its business model, as well as a pitch on why the company is poised to succeed. TuSimple has raised about $298 million with a valuation of more than $1 billion. Its backers include Sina, operator of China’s biggest microblogging site Weibo, Hong Kong-based investment firm Composite Capital, Nvidia, UPS, CDH Investments, Lavender Capital and Tier 1 supplier Mando Corporation.

ADAM CogTech, an Israeli automotive software startup, raised $2 million from Mobilion Ventures, the company said. Mobilion is an early-stage fund that invests in smart mobility, focusing on Israeli and global after-market innovation.

Amazon’s $575 million investment into UK food delivery startup Deliveroo has been cleared by the country’s competition regulator. The investment, which was announced more than a year ago, gave Amazon a 16% stake in Deliveroo. Now that CMA has provisionally cleared the deal, it is open for public comments until July 10. A final decision is expected August 6.

Cazoo, the British online used car marketplace, raised £25 million at a valuation in excess of $1 billion. Draper Esprit joined existing investors in the round, a group that includes DMG Ventures and General Catalyst. Cazoo has raised more than £200 million to date.

DriveU.auto, an Israeli startup that spun out of video transmission technology company LiveU, came out of stealth with $4 million in new funding. The startup has developed a connectivity platform for teleoperations. The funding round was led by RAD group co-founder Zohar Zisapel and included participation from Two Lanterns Venture Partners, Yigal Jacoby, Kaedan Capital and other private investors. Francisco Partners is an existing shareholder.

Lucid Motors gave up majority ownership to Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund in exchange for the $1.3 billion investment it closed last year, according to information disclosed in a new lawsuit, the Verge reported. Wired Middle East previously reported the PIF had taken a 67% stake. However, this is the first time an acknowledgment from the company has been made public.

Shift Technologies, an online used car marketplace, is in talks to merge with blank-check company Insurance Acquisition Corp., Bloomberg reported. Shift is aiming to be valued at more than $500 million in the deal.

Third Wave Automation, a startup developing autonomous forklift technology, emerged from stealth with $15 million in equity financing, VentureBeat reported.

Volkswagen is in talks to buy Europcar Mobility Group, the French car rental company that has a market capitalization of 390 million euros ($441 million) and net debt as of more than 1 billion euros, Reuters reported.

Truckin’

the station semi truck

Trucks have popped up a lot this week, so I figured, heck let’s dig in a bit. The big trendy discussion is about how robotaxis are OUT and autonomous Class 8 trucks are IN. This move towards trucking has actually been happening for awhile now.

The niche subcategory in the autonomous vehicle industry was rather empty in 2015 when TuSimple was founded. Then self-driving truck startup Otto came along. Uber’s 2016 acquisition of Otto certainly brought some attention to the sector. But a number of other startups had also thrown their respective hats into the trucking ring, including Embark and the now defunct Starsky Robotics. Today, this sub-industry includes Ike, Kodiak Robotics and Waymo .

This week, Amazon-backed Aurora received some press for its “shift” to trucking based off of an interview with co-founder Sterling Anderson during The Information’s Autonomous Vehicle Summit.

Let’s be clear, the company has been publicly talking about trucks since at least October 2019. The notable bit is that Anderson shared more about its work with trucks and was clearly bullish on the potential in the marketplace. Together, his comments suggest that the company is prioritizing the development of autonomous trucks over cars.

But the company designed a full self-driving stack meant to have a variety of applications, not just passenger cars. In a tweet after the interview, Anderson summarized its whole approach.

We’re compelled by a product path that goes from middle mile to last mile to mobility services.

If you can swing this technically, it allows for an elegant transition from the largest market (today) with the best unit economics and lowest level of service requirements to smaller, but rapidly growing markets with more challenging unit economics and level of service needs”

In other truckin’ news …

The California Air Resources Board adopted a new rule to phase out the most polluting vehicles on the road today. The rule will require truck manufacturers to transition from diesel trucks and vans to electric zero-emission trucks beginning in 2024. By 2045, every new truck sold in California will be zero-emission.

Russian-Finnish company Zyfra is using 5G technology to replace Wi-Fi/mesh networks used for autonomous mining dump trucks, CNET’s Roadshow reports.

Notable reads and other tidbits

AVs, ride-hailing, electric vehicles and more!

Autonomous vehicles …

Didi Chuxing said Saturday (today) that its on-demand robotaxi service will start picking up riders in Shanghai, China. Passengers may start requesting on-demand rides for free on autonomous vehicles within a designated open-traffic area that covers Shanghai’s Automobile Exhibition Center, the local business districts, subway stations and hotels in downtown Shanghai, the company said in a press release.

Lyft is using data collected from drivers on its ride-hailing app to accelerate the development of self-driving cars. Lyft’s Level 5 self-driving car program is using the data to build 3D maps, understand human driving patterns and improve simulation tests. The program is taking data from select vehicles in its Express Drive program, which provides rental cars and SUVs to drivers on its platform as an alternative to options like long-term leasing

Waymo and Volvo Car Group announced Thursday an “exclusive” partnership to integrate Waymo’s self-driving software into a new electric vehicle designed for ride-hailing. Not a ton of detail about the deal or what “exclusive” means. We know that Volvo and Uber still have a partnership. The deal with Waymo involves integrating its self-driving stack into an “all-new mobility-focused electric vehicle platform for ride hailing services.”  The partnership also includes other subsidiaries under Volvo Car Group, including electric performance brand Polestar and Lynk & Co. International, a point that Volvo Car Group CTO Henrik Green specifically noted in his prepared statement.

Mercedes-Benz and Nvidia announced a partnership to bring “software-defined” vehicles to market. The automaker’s next-generation vehicles will have a software-centric computing architecture based on Nvidia’s Drive AGX Orin computer system-on-a-chip. The underlying architecture will be standard in Mercedes vehicles, starting sometime toward the end of 2024.

It’s electric …

Apple has added a routing feature to Maps that’s designed for electric vehicle owners. The EV routing feature, which will be available in the newest version of iOS, will show charging stations compatible to a user’s electric vehicle along their route. TechCrunch’s Romain Dillet got a bit more information on this feature. He tells me that users will be able to enter their car model in the app, which will provide stops. The user can tap on the stops to see if the charging station is free or not. On sidenote, Apple is also releasing a feature that will prompt you to raise your phone and scan buildings across the street to refine your location. This feature is based on Look Around, a Google Street View-inspired feature that lets you look around as if you were walking down the street.

Arrival revealed a zero-emission bus, the next step in the company to become a major electric transportation company, the Verge reported.

Ars Technica digs into one Ohio city’s plan to get more people to buy electric cars. Hint: it worked.

Lordstown Motors unveiled an electric pickup truck prototype with four in-wheel hub motors and a few other features all aimed squarely at attracting contractors and other buyers in the commercial market. The Ohio startup didn’t get too deep into the details about the electric pickup truck known as Endurance. But we know a few more bits such as a $52,500 base price and some partnerships.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said on Twitter that September 15 is the “tentative date” for the “Tesla Shareholder Meeting & Battery Day,” which will include the usual shareholder meeting as well as a tour of the automaker’s cell production system for the batteries that provide the power for its vehicles.

Speaking of Tesla … the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened a preliminary investigation into allegations of failing touchscreens on Tesla’s older Model S vehicles.

Ride-hailing …

Lyft has agreed to settle a lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice that alleges the ridesharing company discriminated against disabled people — specifically those who use foldable wheelchairs or walkers.

Miscellaneous …

Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs plans to spin out some of its smart city ideas into separate companies focused on mass timber construction, affordable electrification and planning tools optimized with machine learning and computation design, CEO Daniel Doctoroff said at Collision from Home conference, VentureBeat reported.

Ford’s Michigan Central is collaborating with Brooklyn-based Newlab to launch two “Innovation Studios” focused on solving complex transportation industry problems related to connectivity, autonomy and electrification. A corporate studio sponsored by Ford will kick off this summer to address macro mobility issues. A second civic studio will follow focusing on more immediate mobility issues in the neighborhoods around Michigan Central Station. In 2018, Ford acquired 1.2 million square feet in Corktown, Detroit’s oldest neighborhood, including the historic Michigan Central Station, with plans to establish a new mobility innovation district called Michigan Central. The first work spaces are expected to open within Michigan Central in 2022.

GM turned to 3D printing for a C8 Corvette prototype. In the end, 75% of the vehicle was 3D printed, Car and Driver reported.

See ya’ll next week!

Waymo, Volvo partner to develop electric robotaxis

By Kirsten Korosec

Waymo’s self-driving software footprint is expanding — this time in a partnership with Volvo Car Group. The two companies announced Thursday an “exclusive” partnership to integrate Waymo’s self-driving software into a new electric vehicle designed for ride-hailing.

Volvo and Waymo provided just a few details on the partnership and what this might actually look like except that the companies “will first work together to integrate the Waymo Driver into an all-new mobility-focused electric vehicle platform for ride hailing services.” The phrase “first work together” suggests more is coming. We know that the new vehicle platform will be capable of Level 4 autonomy, a designation by SAE that means it can handle all driving in a specific geographic area or in certain weather and road conditions.

The partnership also includes other subsidiaries under Volvo Car Group, including electric performance brand Polestar and Lynk & Co. International, a point that Volvo Car Group CTO Henrik Green specifically noted in his prepared statement.

“Fully autonomous vehicles have the potential to improve road safety to previously unseen levels and to revolutionize the way people live, work and travel,” Volvo Car Group CTO Henrik Green said in a statement. “Our partnership with Waymo opens up new and exciting business opportunities for Volvo Cars, Polestar and Lynk & Co.”

The term “exclusivity” is also used to describe the partnership. But without specific details it’s hard to know where this is headed and what “exclusive” actually means. The exclusivity term is used to describe Waymo’s Level 4 self-driving software, which suggests that the two companies might be co-developing or certainly sharing sensitive information on the inner workings of the stack. It also hints that the partnership is structured to include a possible licensing deal.

Waymo’s strategy so far has been to partner with automakers. Waymo handles the design of its hardware suite, software and compute system. It then works with the automakers to create vehicles that integrate easily with its so-called Waymo Driver. These relationships have largely focused on ride-hailing applications, but could be customized to make the vehicles more suitable for local delivery, trucking and personal car ownership.

If a licensing deal between the two companies materializes, it could be similar to Waymo’s partnership with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. In May 2018, FCA announced it expanded its contract with Waymo to supply the self-driving car company with up to 62,000 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans. FCA also said at the time that it was exploring ways to license Waymo’s self-driving car technology in order to deploy the tech in cars for consumers.

Waymo has a supplier partnership with Jaguar Land Rover for up to 20,000 all-electric I-Pace vehicles. In June 2020, Waymo locked in a partnership with Renault and Nissan to research how commercial autonomous vehicles might work for passengers and packages in France and Japan.

Don’t forget that Volvo still has a deal with Uber self-driving unit Uber Advanced Technologies Group. Both Volvo and Uber ATG confirmed that its four-year partnership is still intact. Under that partnership, Volvo is supplying Uber with a vehicle designed for autonomous driving. These special Volvo XC90 vehicles are equipped with the hardware necessary to support Uber’s self-driving software. Uber then integrates its self-driving software stack into the vehicle. Volvo said it has a “framework agreement with Uber to deliver tens of thousands of autonomous drive ready vehicles.”

Masayoshi Son resigns from board of Alibaba; defends SoftBank Group’s investment strategy

By Manish Singh

SoftBank Group founder Masayoshi Son said on Thursday he is leaving the board of Jack Ma’s Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group today, a month after Ma left the board of Son’s technology group.

Son said he sees the move as “graduating” from Alibaba Group’s board, his most successful investment to date, as he swiftly moved to defend the Japanese group’s investment strategy, which has been the subject of scrutiny and public mockery in recent quarters.

Son said his conglomerate’s holding has recovered to the pre-coronavirus outbreak levels. The firm has benefited from the rising value of Alibaba Group and its stake in Sprint, following the telecom operator’s merger with T-Mobile. Son said his firm has seen an internet rate of return (or IRR, a popular metric used by VC funds to demonstrate their performance) of 25%.

In a shareholder meeting today, he said he was worried that many people think that SoftBank is “finished” and are calling it “SoftPunku,” a colloquial used in Japan which means a broken thing. All combined, SoftBank’s shareholder value now stands at $218 billion, he said.

Son insisted that he was leaving the board of Alibaba Group, a position he has held since 2005, on good terms and that there hadn’t been any disagreements between him and Ma.

Son’s move follows Jack Ma, who co-founded Alibaba Group, leaving the board of SoftBank last month after assuming the position for 13 years. Son famously invested $20 million in Alibaba 20 years ago. Early this year, SoftBank still owned shares worth $100 billion in Alibaba.

A range of SoftBank’s recent investments has spooked the investment world. The firm, known for writing big checks, has publicly stated that its investment in ride-hailing giant Uber, office space manager WeWork, and a range of other startups has not provided the return it had hoped.

Several of these firms, including Oyo, a budget-lodging Indian startup, has moreover been hit hard by the pandemic.

Son, who has raised $20 billion by selling T-Mobile stake, said after factoring in other of his recent deals SoftBank had accumulated $35 billion or 80% of the total planned unloading of investments.

Suse launches version 2.0 of its Cloud Foundry-based Cloud Application Platform

By Frederic Lardinois

Suse, the well-known German open-source company that went through more corporate owners than anybody can remember until it finally became independent again in 2019, has long been a champion of Cloud Foundry, the open-source platform-as-a-service project. And while you may think of Suse as a Linux distribution, today’s company also offers a number of other services, including a container platform, DevOps tools and the Suse Cloud Application Platform, based on Cloud Foundry. Today, right in time for the bi-annual (and now virtual) Cloud Foundry Summit, the company announced the launch of version 2.0 of this platform.

The promise of the Application Platform, and indeed Cloud Foundry, is that it allows for one-step application deployments and an enterprise-ready platform to host them.

The marquee feature of version 2.0 is that it now includes a new Kubernetes Operator, a standard way of packaging, deploying and managing container-based applications, which makes deploying and managing Cloud Foundry on Kubernetes infrastructure easier.

Suse President of Engineering and Innovation Thomas Di Giacomo also notes that it’s now easier to “install, operate and maintain on Kubernetes platforms anywhere — on premises and in public clouds,” and that it opens up a new path for existing Cloud Foundry users to move to a modern container-based architecture. Indeed, for the last few years, Suse has been crucial to bringing both Kubernetes support to Cloud Foundry and Cloud Foundry to Kubernetes.

Cloud Foundry, it’s worth noting, long used its home-grown container orchestration tool, which the community developed before anybody had even heard of Kubernetes. Over the course of the last few years, though, Kubernetes became the de facto standard for container management, and today, Cloud Foundry supports both its own Diego tool and Kubernetes.

Suse Cloud Application Platform 2.0 builds on and advances those efforts, incorporating several upstream technologies recently contributed by Suse to the Cloud Foundry Community,” writes Di Giacomo. “These include KubeCF, a containerized version of the Cloud Foundry Application Runtime designed to run on Kubernetes, and Project Quarks, a Kubernetes operator for automating deployment and management of Cloud Foundry on Kubernetes.”

Affirming the position of tech advocates, Supreme Court overturns Trump’s termination of DACA

By Jonathan Shieber

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that President Donald Trump’s administration unlawfully ended the federal policy providing temporary legal status for immigrants who came to the country as children.

The decision, issued Thursday, called the termination of the Obama-era policy known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program “arbitrary and capricious.” As a result of its ruling, nearly 640,000 people living in the United States are now temporarily protected from deportation.

While a blow to the Trump Administration, the ruling is sure to be hailed nearly unanimously by the tech industry and its leaders, who had come out strongly in favor of the policy in the days leading up to its termination by the current president and his advisors.

At the beginning of 2018, many of tech’s most prominent executives, including the CEOs of Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Google, joined more than 100 American business leaders in signing an open letter asking Congress to take action on the DACA program before it expired in March.

Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos and Sundar Pichai made a full-throated defense of the policy and pleaded with Congress to pass legislation ensuring that “Dreamers,” or undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children and were granted approval by the program, can continue to live and work in the country without risk of deportation.

At the time, those executives said the decision to end the program could potentially cost the U.S. economy as much as $215 billion.

In a 2017 tweet, Tim Cook noted that Apple employed roughly 250 “Dreamers.”

250 of my Apple coworkers are #Dreamers. I stand with them. They deserve our respect as equals and a solution rooted in American values.

— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) September 3, 2017

The list of tech executives who came out in support of the DACA initiative is long. It included: IBM CEO Ginni Rometty; Brad Smith, the president and chief legal officer of Microsoft; Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman; and CEOs or other leading executives of AT&T, Dropbox, Upwork, Cisco Systems, Salesforce, LinkedIn, Intel, Warby Parker, Uber, Airbnb, Slack, Box, Twitter, PayPal, Code.org, Lyft, Etsy, AdRoll, eBay, StitchCrew, SurveyMonkey, DoorDash and Verizon (the parent company of Verizon Media Group, which owns TechCrunch).

At the heart of the court’s ruling is the majority view that Department of Homeland Security officials didn’t provide a strong enough reason to terminate the program in September 2017. Now, the issue of immigration status gets punted back to the White House and Congress to address.

As the Boston Globe noted in a recent article, the majority decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts did not determine whether the Obama-era policy or its revocation were correct, just that the DHS didn’t make a strong enough case to end the policy.

“We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action,” Roberts wrote. 

While the ruling from the Supreme Court is some good news for the population of “Dreamers,” the question of their citizenship status in the country is far from settled. The U.S. government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has basically consisted of freezing as much of the nation’s immigration apparatus as possible.

An executive order in late April froze the green card process for would-be immigrants, and the administration was rumored to be considering a ban on temporary workers under H1-B visas as well.

The president has, indeed, ramped up the crackdown with strict border control policies and other measures to curb both legal and illegal immigration. 

More than 800,000 people joined the workforce as a result of the 2012 program crafted by the Obama administration. DACA allows anyone under 30 to apply for protection from deportation or legal action on their immigration cases if they were younger than 16 when they were brought to the U.S., had not committed a crime and were either working or in school.

In response to the Supreme Court decision, the President tweeted “Do you get the impression that the Supreme Court doesn’t like me?”

Do you get the impression that the Supreme Court doesn’t like me?

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 18, 2020

 

 

Software shares set new records as tech rallies

By Kirsten Korosec

In another up for technology shares, software companies saw their values reach new heights today.

The days trading comes after a selloff last week eased some of technology companies’ rebounds from their COVID-19 lows; stocks in tech companies have more than made up for their early-year declines in mid-2020, with the Nasdaq reaching 10,000 points before giving up some ground.

Today the Nasdaq Composite index rose 0.15% to 9,910.53 points, just a few bips short of its all-time highs. A thematic tech index focused on fintech also saw their values recover to a mote under previous highs. The S&P 500 fell 0.36% to close at $3,113.41 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average Index decreased 0.65% to $26,119.13.

But software companies, tech’s highest fliers, set broached new records as measured by the Bessemer cloud index. According to the Financial Times, the software-and-cloud tracking index has seen gains of over 45% during the last year, a sharp advance during a year of economic uncertainty and occasional stock market carnage.

Looking around more broadly, tech shares with a bit more of a value flavor — GAAP profitability, regular dividends, etc. — performed well with Apple setting new record highs as well. The smartphone giant and services shop is worth more than $1.5 trillion underscoring how attractive stable-tech has proved in 2020. On the same theme, Microsoft is a few points from all-time highs, and is worth around $1.48 trillion.

But while software’s growth has proved attractive, as has the stability of megacorp tech shops, less certain bets have also proved attractive. Nikola, an electric vehicle company that went public recently in a reverse debut is still worth around $26 billion despite having no reported revenue. On a similar theme, Tesla shares are up from around $225 a year ago to over $993 today, a gain of 340% or so. In Q1 2020 the company posted 38% year-over-year growth.

$420 per share feels a long time ago.

Speaking of transportation, Uber and Lyft had separate announcements Wednesday that should have primed the ol’ investor pump. Instead, shares of both companies bopped from flat to slightly down throughout the day.

Uber announced Wednesday that it will manage an on-demand service for Marin County in the San Francisco Bay area marking the company’s broader push Software as a Service and public transit.

Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM) will pay Uber a subscription fee to use its management software to facilitate requesting, matching and tracking of its high-occupancy vehicle fleet, starting with a service that operates along the Highway 101 corridor. Marin Transit trips will show up in the Uber app and let users book and even share rides.

This fundamental piece of news should have appealed to investors. Today they responded with a resounding ‘meh’ even though it represents the first steps into generating a new stream of revenue.

Uber shares closed down 0.60% to $33.29.

Meanwhile, rival Lyft pledged Wednesday that every car, truck and SUV on its platform will be all electric or powered by another zero-emission technology by 2030, a commitment that will require the company to coax drivers to shift away from gas-powered vehicles.

The target, which Lyft plans to pursue with help from the Environmental Defense Fund, will stretch across multiple programs. It will include the company’s autonomous vehicles, the Express Drive rental car partner program for ride-share drivers, consumer rental cars for riders and personal cars that drivers use on the Lyft app.

Perhaps, investors understand that even with a decade-long timeline, the target could be difficult to meet.

Lyft shares closed at $35.32, down 3.79%

TechCrunch has slowed its public market coverage as tech equities have returned to a more stable period; that they have made back lost ground has been worth noting, but lower volatility has lowered the market’s newsworthiness. Still, from time-to-time when new all-time highs are hit, it’s worth putting our toes back into the water. And on days when different blocs of public tech set records, we can’t help but make a public note.

Tech and tech-ish stocks: still in fashion.

Uber pushes into on-demand public transit with its first SaaS partnership

By Kirsten Korosec

Uber will manage an on-demand service for Marin County in the San Francisco Bay area with a software as a service product as part of ride-hailing company’s broader strategy to push into public transit.

Marin Transit will pay Uber a subscription fee to use its management software to facilitate requesting, matching and tracking of its high-occupancy vehicle fleet, starting with a service that operates along with Highway 101 corridor. Marin Transit trips will show up in the Uber app and let users book and even share rides.

Users in Marin County will see a new option called Marin Connect when they open the Uber app. The feature allows customers to book a ride on the six-seater and wheelchair accessible vans operated by Marin Transit. Fares are $4 per mile or $3 for Marin Access riders. There is no booking fee, Uber said. The app will allow riders to share the ride if they’re traveling in the same direction. For now, the maximum occupancy is two riders.

The service will operate weekdays from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. PT and run down the Highway 101 corridor between Mill Valley and Novato.

The deal marks the first SaaS partnership for Uber and a likely pathway moving forward. Uber will generate revenue by offering this as a subscription. All of the fares will head directly to Marin Transit. The company, which recently offloaded its micromobility unit Jump in a deal with Lime, has reshaped its strategy as the COVID-19 pandemic has upended its business. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said during the company’s last earnings call that the company is focused on growing Eats, its food delivery business, as well as public transit.

This is not Uber’s first foray into public transit. The company already has a public transit feature called Journey Planning that is available in more than 15 cities around the world, including the Marin area since 2019. The company has also worked with Denver and Las Vegas. In 2018, Uber partnered with mobile ticketing platform Masabi to let people book and use transit tickets from within the Uber app.

This SaaS partnership with Marin Transit is a bigger push into public transit and has more potential to generate revenue if Uber can convince other transit authorities to follow suit. It also puts in direct competition with Via, an on-demand shuttle startup that hit a $2.25 billion valuation in March 2020 following a Series E funding round led by Exor, the Agnelli family holding company that owns stakes in PartnerRe, Ferrari and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

Transit Authority of Marin (TAM) is also partnering with Uber to launch a first/last-mile voucher program to and from transit stops. These vouchers can be used for Marin Connect as well.

Both services will begin July 1.

Loodse becomes Kubermatic and open sources Kubernetes automation platform

By Ron Miller

Loodse, a German Kubernetes automation platform, announced today that it was rebranding as Kubermatic. While it was at it, the company also announced that it was open sourcing its Kubermatic Kubernetes Platform as open source under the Apache 2.0 License.

Co-founder Sebastian Scheele says that his company’s Kubernetes solution can provision clusters and applications on any cloud, as well in a datacenter running, for example OpenStack or VMware. What’s more, it can do it much faster by automating much of the operations side of running Kubernetes clusters.

“We wanted to really have a cloud native way to run and manage Kubernetes. And so it’s running the Kubernetes master itself, which is completely containerized on top of Kubernetes, rather than being run on VMs. This helps provide you with better scalability, but also because it’s running on Kubernetes, we get all of the resilience and auto scaling out of Kubernetes itself,” Scheele told TechCrunch.

He says that he and his co-founder Julian Hansert have always had a strong commitment to open source, and offering Kubermatic platform under the Apache 2.0 license is a way to show that to the community. “One of the big [things] we can bring to the table is making Kubermatic completely open source, while following the Open-core model, and having a strong commitment to open source to the world and also to the community,” he said.

Image Credit: Kubermatic

As for why it’s rebranding, he says that the original company name is a German word that means navigation pilot for a ship. The name is a nod to its Hamburg base, which is a hub for container ships. It makes sense to Germans, but not others, so they wanted a name that more broadly reflected what the company does.

“Now that we are open sourcing Kubermatic, we also thought that people should understand our vision and what’s our DNA. It’s Kubernetes automation, helping our customers to really save money on Kubernetes operations by automating as much as possible on the operation level, so our users can really focus on building new applications,” he explained.

The company launched 4 years ago and has taken no funding, completely bootstrapping along the way. It’s worth noting it was of the top 5 committers to the open source Kubernetes project in 2019 along with much bigger names including Google, VMware, Red Hat and Microsoft.

Today the company has 50 employees most of whom are working remotely by choice, rather than due to the pandemic. In fact the company has employees working in 10 different countries. He says that has allowed him to work with people with a broad set of skills, who don’t necessarily live in Hamburg where he and Hansert are based.

Uber could lose its Grubhub deal to Just Eat or Delivery Hero

By Alex Wilhelm

According to CNBC there are two suitors rivaling Uber for purchase of U.S. food delivery company Grubhub: Just Eat Takeaway (the union of Just Eat and Takeaway) and Delivery Hero.

Both are European companies perhaps looking for a major entry to the United States market. Just Eat Takeaway is based in the U.K. and Holland, while Delivery Hero is based in Germany. They are both lavishly funded, with Just Eat Takeaway having raised around $1 billion (a combined tally for both companies that now make up the conjoined entity), according to Crunchbase data, and Delivery Hero flush with billions in historical capital from a number of sources.

What price they might pay wasn’t clear on this Friday afternoon, but public market investors are optimistic on what the companies might pay. Shares of Grubhub shot higher on news that other suitors were in the mix; its shares are currently trading up around 7% on the day.

A bidding war could help Grubhub drive a higher price for itself. According to various reports, Uber and Grubhub are struggling to find the right price for the smaller company’s assets. Uber Eats is a domestic competitor to Grubhub, making the tie-up attractive to the larger company from a competitive perspective; if Uber can eliminate one of its chief rivals while absorbing its market share, then perhaps the company best known for its ride-hailing business would be able to extract more cash from food delivery, lessening its regular losses from the activity.

How much more restaurants can give up to food aggregators and delivery players, if any, isn’t clear.

But what’s plain today is that the battle for ownership of the U.S. food delivery market is far from over. If one of the European players does absorb Grubhub, it could set up a newly energized, multi-way struggle to bring food from where it’s made to the homes of consumers. Uber Eats against Grubhub and its new owner against Postmates against DoorDash: That would be an expensive dust-up.

So expensive, in fact, that perhaps Uber will cough up more than it wanted to for the asset to avoid having to fight a newly energized Grubhub, powered by cash from its new, European parent company.

Why you should worry about data transparency

By Walter Thompson
Kevin Walkup Contributor
Kevin Walkup is President and COO of Harmonate, a data-services firm serving private funds.

In the world of business and finance, the question on everyone’s mind is whether COVID-19 is going to lead to permanent changes in the economy. Will lockdowns become part of everyday life? Will new disruptive consumer behaviors emerge? How will investors react?

First, we’re headed for a period of radical required transparency. For me, this started hitting home two years ago. George Walker, CEO of massive fund of funds Neuberger Berman, told Bloomberg that his pricing power over clients was “zero” because customers had access to competing asset managers, as well as data, research and analysis and other investment options online.

“Clients are tough. Consumers are tough now. Technology is changing,” he said. “The pricing challenges are significant and real.”

One would think Walker would be averse to greater transparency. His self-interest theoretically might dictate that he behave like a wizard behind a curtain. But Walker embraced transparency, saying his clients should use the leverage they gain from shopping around to save money when hiring asset managers like him. Teachers’ unions and others need the cash, he said. He’s too smart to fight the tide.

Transparency, secondly, is going to put a lot of pressure on companies. Walker knows that transparency might put downward pressure on prices but, if deployed properly, it can also cultivate loyalty. It can also attract competitors’ clients who are also navigating the same comparison-shopping environment. The bottom line is that companies will need to work harder as their customers become savvier.

What’s more, that new environment is coming as the tailwinds that fueled the growth of tech companies in the last 15 years are losing steam as the internet, social media and smart devices transition into mature technologies. Technology is still going to let companies scale up in extraordinary and cost-effective ways, but innovation will face a higher bar to wow clients.

This dilemma brings us to the third and most important point to consider moving forward as companies struggle to survive in the post-coronavirus economy. Leaders of firms that thrive in the coming years must be prepared for success in fits and starts, sometimes after failures that in the short term seem like unforced errors but in hindsight might become experiences crucial to progress on the crooked path to success.

Consider Intel’s Operation Crush in the 1970s. As business guru Hamilton Helmer wrote in his must-read “7 Powers: The Foundations of Business Strategy,” microprocessors at the time were not a big portion of Intel’s business. Many in the company didn’t think chips were worth much effort, in part because their competitors were producing perfectly good microprocessors, too. The fact that microprocessors were constituent parts of other companies’ machines and not standalone products bolstered skeptical views among Intel’s sales force.

Intel honchos nonetheless wanted to secure 2,000 contracts for their microprocessors under Operation Crush in part because they saw how Japanese competitors were beating them in the semiconductor space. They needed to pivot. One contract happened to be with IBM, which around that time had a market cap of almost $40 billion compared to Intel’s cap of $1.7 billion. Nobody thought the deal would yield a sea change for either company, but Intel and IBM’s collaboration resulted in a personal computer revolution that made Intel a success.

The 1970s were a heady time that, it turns out, were the transition decade to an entirely new phase of the economy. The Operation Crush lesson is that the avenues to success after the coronavirus subsides are not going to be straightforward, obvious or immediate. We simply don’t know the second and third-order implications of much of what has happened in the last few months to be able to chart a direct path forward.

Instead, we have some truths that can serve as our guiding lights. Companies will need to embrace transparency. They will need to show grace under pressure. And they will need to have the courage to embark on aggressive campaigns that seize the moment even if they don’t fully understand what that moment might be.

Google and Walmart establish dominance in India’s mobile payments market as WhatsApp Pay struggles to launch

By Manish Singh

In India, it’s Google and Walmart-owned PhonePe that are racing neck-and-neck to be the top player in the mobile payments market, while Facebook remains mired in a regulatory maze for WhatsApp Pay’s rollout.

In May, more than 75 million users transacted on Google Pay app, ahead of PhonePe’s 60 million users, people familiar with the companies’ figures told TechCrunch. More than 10 million users transact on SoftBank -backed Paytm’s app everyday, according to internal data seen by TechCrunch.

Google still lags Paytm’s reach with merchants, but the Android -maker has maintained its overall lead in recent months despite every player losing momentum due to one of the most stringent lockdowns globally in place in India.

The company is facing an antitrust probe in India over allegations that it is abusing its market position to unfairly promote its mobile payments app in the country, Reuters reported last month.

Paytm, once the dominant player in India, has been struggling to sustain its user base for nearly two years. The company had about 60 million transacting users in January last year, said people familiar with the matter.

Paytm had over 50 million monthly active users on its app in May, a spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Data sets consider transacting users to be those who have made at least one payment through the app in a month. It’s a coveted metric and is different from the much more popular monthly active users (MAU), or daily active users (DAU) that various firms use to share their performance. A portion of those labeled as monthly active users do not make any transaction on the app.

India’s homegrown payment firm, Paytm, has struggled to grow in recent years in part because of a mandate by India’s central bank to mobile wallet firms — the middlemen between users and banks — to perform know-your-client (KYC) verification of users, which created confusion among many, some of the people said. These woes come despite the firm’s fundraising success, which amounts to more than $3 billion.

In a statement, a Paytm spokesperson said, “When it comes to mobile wallets one has to remember the fact that Paytm was the company that set up the infrastructure to do KYC and has been able to complete over 100 million KYCs by physically meeting customers.”

Paytm has long benefited from integration with popular services such as Uber, and food delivery startup Swiggy, but fewer than 10 million of Paytm’s monthly transacting users have relied on this feature in recent months.

Two executives, who like everyone else spoke on the condition of anonymity because of fear of retribution, also said that Paytm resisted the idea of adopting Unified Payments Interface. That’s the nearly two-year-old payments infrastructure built and backed by a collation of banks in India that enables money to be sent directly between accounts at different banks and eliminates the need for a separate mobile wallet.

Paytm’s delays in adopting the standard left room for Google and PhonePe, another early adopter of UPI, to seize the opportunity.

Paytm, which adopted UPI a year after Google and PhonePe, refuted the characterization that it resisted joining UPI ecosystem.

“We are the company that cherishes innovation and technology that can transform the lives of millions. We understand the importance of financial technology and for this very reason, we have always been the champion and supporter of UPI. We, however, launched it on Paytm later than our peers because it took a little longer for us to get the approval to start UPI based services,“ a spokesperson said.

A sign for Paytm online payment method, operated by One97 Communications Ltd., is displayed at a street stall selling accessories in Bengaluru, India, on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Missing from the fray is Facebook, which counts India as its biggest market by user count. The company began talks with banks to enter India’s mobile payments market, estimated to reach $1 trillion by 2023 (according to Credit Suisse), through WhatsApp as early as 2017. WhatsApp is the most popular smartphone app in India with over 400 million users in the country.

Facebook launched WhatsApp Pay to a million users in the following year, but has been locked in a regulatory battle since to expand the payments service to the rest of its users. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said WhatsApp Pay would roll out nationwide by end of last year, but the firm is yet to secure all approvals — and new challenges keep cropping up. The company, which invested $5.7 billion in the nation’s top telecom operator Reliance Jio Platforms in April, declined to comment.

PhonePe, which was conceived only a year before WhatsApp set eyes to India’s mobile payments, has consistently grown as it added several third-party services. These include leading food and grocery delivery services Swiggy and Grofers, ride-hailing giant Ola, ticketing and staying players Ixigo and Oyo Hotels, in a so-called super app strategy. In November, about 63 million users were active on PhonePe, 45 million of whom transacted through the app.

Karthik Raghupathy, the head of business at PhonePe, confirmed the company’s transacting users to TechCrunch.

Three factors contributed to the growth of PhonePe, he said in an interview. “The rise of smartphones and mobile data adoption in recent years; early adoption to UPI at a time when most mobile payments firms in India were betting on virtual mobile-wallet model; and taking an open-ecosystem approach,” he said.

“We opened our consumer base to all our merchant partners very early on. Our philosophy was that we would not enter categories such as online ticketing for movies and travel, and instead work with market leaders on those fronts,” he explained.

“We also went to the market with a completely open, interoperable QR code that enabled merchants and businesses to use just one QR code to accept payments from any app — not just ours. Prior to this, you would see a neighborhood store maintain several QR codes to support a number of payment apps. Over the years, our approach has become the industry norm,” he said, adding that PhonePe has been similarly open to other wallets and payments options as well.

But despite the growth and its open approach, PhonePe has still struggled to win the confidence of investors in recent quarters. Stoking investors’ fears is the lack of a clear business model for mobile payments firms in India.

PhonePe executives held talks to raise capital last year that would have valued it at $8 billion, but the negotiations fell apart. Similar talks early this year, which would have valued PhonePe at $3 billion, which hasn’t been previously reported, also fell apart, three people familiar with the matter said. Raghupathy and a PhonePe spokesperson declined to comment on the company’s fundraising plans.

For now, Walmart has agreed to continue to bankroll the payments app, which became part of the retail group with Flipkart acquisition in 2018.

As UPI gained inroads in the market, banks have done away with any promotional incentives to mobile payments players, one of their only revenue sources.

At an event in Bangalore late last year, Sajith Sivanandan, managing director and business head of Google Pay and Next Billion User Initiatives, said current local rules have forced Google Pay to operate without a clear business model in India.

Coronavirus takes its toll on payments companies

The coronavirus pandemic that prompted New Delhi to order a nationwide lockdown in late March preceded a significant, but predictable, drop in mobile payments usage in the following weeks. But while Paytm continues to struggle in bouncing back, PhonePe and Google Pay have fully recovered as India eased some restrictions.

About 120 million UPI transactions occurred on Paytm in the month of May, down from 127 million in April and 186 million in March, according to data compiled by NPCI, the body that oversees UPI, and obtained by TechCrunch. (Paytm maintains a mobile wallet business, which contributes to its overall transacting users.)

Google Pay, which only supports UPI payments, facilitated 540 million transactions in May, up from 434 million in April and 515 million in March. PhonePe’s 454 million March figure slid to 368 million in April, but it turned the corner, with 460 million transactions last month. An NPCI spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

PhonePe and Google Pay together accounted for about 83% of all UPI transactions in India last month. UPI itself has over 117 million users.

Industry executives working at rival firms said it would be a mistake to dismiss Paytm, the one-time leader of the mobile payments market in India.

Paytm has cut its marketing expenses and aggressively chased merchants in recent quarters. Earlier this year, it unveiled a range of gadgets, including a device that displays QR check-out codes that comes with a calculator and USB charger, a jukebox that provides voice confirmations of transactions and services to streamline inventory management for merchants.

Merchants who use these devices pay a recurring fee to Paytm, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, co-founder and chief executive of the firm told TechCrunch in an interview earlier this year. Paytm has also entered several businesses, such as movie and travel ticketing, lending, games and e-commerce, and set up a digital payments bank over the years.

“Everyone knows Paytm. Paytm is synonymous with digital payments in India. And outside, there’s a perceived notion that it’s truly the Alipay of India,” an executive at a rival firm said.

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