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Dutch startup Go Sharing raises $60M to expand beyond e-mopeds and into new markets

By Ingrid Lunden

On-demand access to electric mopeds — the small, motorised scooters that you sit on, not kick — has been a small but persistent part of the multi-modal transportation mix on offer to people in cities these days. Today, a startup out of The Netherlands is announcing some funding with ambitions to make e-mopeds more mainstream, and to expand into a wider set of vehicle options.

Go Sharing, which has a fleet of around 5,000 e-mopeds across in 30 cities in three countries — The Netherlands, Belgium and Austria — has picked up €50 million (around $60 million). The startup, based near Utrecht, plans to use the funding to expand its footprint for e-mopeds; add electric cars and e-bikes to its app; and continue building out the technology underpinning it all.

Go Sharing believes tech will be the answer to creating a profitable operation, using AI algorithms to optimize locations for e-mopeds, encouraging people to drop off in those locations with incentives like discounts, and keeping that network charged.

Germany, the UK and Turkey are next on Go Sharing’s list of countries, the company said.

The funding is being led by Opportunity Partners — a firm based out of Amsterdam that also backs online supermarket Crisp, with the startup’s founders — CEO Raymon Pouwels, Doeke Boersma, and Donny van den Oever — also participating. A previous round of about $12 million came from Rabo Corporate Investments, the VC arm of the banking giant.

In a world where we now have many choices for getting around cities — taxis, public transport, push and electric bikes, scooters, walking, carpools, car rentals or our own cars — e-mopeds occupy an interesting niche in the mix.

They can be faster than bikes and scooters — 25 km per hour is a typical speed limit in cities, 40 km per hour in less dense areas — more agile than cars, completely quiet compared to their very noisy fuel-based cousins, and of course much more eco-friendly. For those managing fleets, they less likely to break down and need replacing than some of the other alternatives like e-bikes and e-scooters.

But they also represent a higher barrier to entry for picking up customers: riders need a license to operate them as you would other moving vehicles, and in some (but not all) places they need to wear helmets; and the operators of fleets need to sort out how required insurance will work and need special permits as a vehicle provider in most places, and they can also face the same issue as other vehicles like bikes and kick scooters of being a public nuisance when parked.

That mix of challenges — and the fact that fleets can be expensive to operate and might even if all the boxes are ticked still not attract enough users — has meant that the e-moped market has been a patchy one, with some startups shutting down, some cancelling cities after low demand, or retreating over and then returning with better safety measures.

Yet with on-demand transport companies increasingly looking to provide “any” mode in their multi-modal plays to capture more consumers at more times, they remain a class of vehicle that the bigger players and newer entrants will continue to entertain. Lime earlier this year said it was adding e-mopeds to its fleet in certain cities. Uber teamed up with Cityscoot in Paris to integrate the e-moped’s fleet into its app. Cityscoot itself raised some funding last year and is active in several cities across Europe.

And while it can be work to get permits and other regulatory aspects in place to operate services, Pouwels said that Go Sharing was finding that many municipalities actually liked the idea of bringing in more e-mopeds as an eco-friendly alternative to more vehicles — the idea being to provide a transport option to people who are not interested in kick-scooters or bikes and might have driven their own cars, meaning they already have licenses.

The eco-friendly option is also motivating how the company is planning out other parts of its strategy:

“What we have heard from regulators is that they want to motivate people to walk or move in other ways, for example with bicycles,” Pouwels said in an interview. “What we’ve seen with kick scooters is that they ‘deactivate’ people. This is why we see bikes [not adding e-scooters] as the healthy way of moving forward.” The plan with adding electric cars, he said, is to address the needs of people to travel longer distances than shorter inner-city journeys.

Handling supply for its services is coming by way of GreenMo, a sister operation run by Boersma that has been procuring and running a rental service of e-mopeds that are used by drivers for delivery services, with some 10,000 bikes already used this way. GreenMo recently acquired Dutch startup e-bike and a took a majority stake in Belgian company zZoomer, to expand its fleet.

Cloud kitchen startup JustKitchen to go public on the TSX Venture Exchange

By Catherine Shu

JustKitchen, a cloud kitchen startup, will start trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) Venture Exchange on Thursday morning. It is doing a direct listing of its common shares, having already raised $8 million at a $30 million valuation.

The company says this makes it one of the first—if not the first—cloud kitchen company to go public in North America. While JustKitchen launched operations last year in Taiwan, it is incorporated in Canada, with plans to expand into Hong Kong, Singapore, the Philippines and the United States. TSX Venture is a board on the Toronto Stock Exchange for emerging companies, including startups, that can move to the main board once they reach certain thresholds depending on industry.

“It’s a really convenient way to get into the market and with the ghost kitchen industry in particular, it’s early stage and there’s a lot of runway,” co-founder and chief executive officer Jason Chen told TechCrunch. “We felt there really was a need to get going as quickly as we could and really get out into the market.”

Participants in JustKitchen’s IPO rounds included returning investor SparkLabs Taipei (JustKitchen took part in its accelerator program last year), investment institutions and retail clients from Toronto. More than half of JustKitchen’s issued and outstanding shares are owned by its executives, board directors and employees, Chen said.

One of the reasons JustKitchen decided to list on TSX Venture Exchange is Chen’s close ties to the Canadian capital markets, where he worked as an investment banker before moving to Taiwan to launch the startup. A couple of JustKitchen’s board members are also active in the Canadian capital markets, including Darren Devine, a member of TSX Venture Exchange’s Local Advisory Committee.

These factors made listing on the board a natural choice for JustKitchen, Chen told TechCrunch. Other reasons included ability to automatically graduate to the main TSX board once companies pass certain thresholds, including market cap and net profitability, and the ease of doing dual listings in other countries. Just Kitchen is also preparing to list its common shares on the OTCQB exchange in the U.S. and the Frankfurt Stock Exchange in Germany.

Domino’s, Nuro to begin autonomous pizza deliveries in Houston

By Rebecca Bellan

Starting this week, some Domino’s customers in Houston can have a pizza delivered without ever interacting with a human.

The pizza delivery giant said Monday it has partnered with autonomous delivery vehicle startup Nuro to allow select customers to have their pizzas dropped at their door via Nuro’s R2 robot.

“There is still so much for our brand to learn about the autonomous delivery space,” Dennis Maloney, Domino’s senior vice president and chief innovation officer said in a statement. “This program will allow us to better understand how customers respond to the deliveries, how they interact with the robot and how it affects store operations.”

On certain days and times, customers ordering from the Woodland Heights store on the Domino’s website can request R2, which uses radar, 360-degree cameras and thermal imaging to direct its movement. They’ll get texts to let them know where the robot is and what PIN they’ll need to access their pizza via the bot’s touchscreen.

Over the course of the pandemic, the contactless, autonomous food delivery industry has accelerated quickly, and Nuro is currently poised to become a leader in this space.

“Nuro’s mission is to better everyday life through robotics,” Dave Ferguson, Nuro co-founder and president, said in a statement. “We’re excited to introduce our autonomous delivery bots to a select set of Domino’s customers in Houston. We can’t wait to see what they think.”

This is the first time meals will be delivered by an electric, self-driving, occupant-less vehicle on the roads in Houston. Woodland Heights, which is mainly residential, is one of the oldest historic neighborhoods in Houston, flanked by the I-45 and I-10 highways. The Domino’s there is right on Houston Avenue, a main thoroughfare, making this a substantially challenging space in which to pilot this technology.

Nuro originally announced the Domino’s partnership and began testing in Houston in 2019. That same year, the company began deploying its vehicles to transport Kroger groceries in Houston and Phoenix. At the end of 2020, it was approved to begin testing on public roads in California, delivering goods from partners like Walmart and CVS. Nuro is the first company to be granted regulatory approval by the U.S. Department of Transportation for a self-driving vehicle exemption.

Domino’s appears to be Nuro’s first large foray into restaurant delivery, but it certainly won’t be the last. The company just announced its $500 million Series C round, funded in part by Chipotle. Woven Capital, the investment arm of Toyota’s innovation-focused subsidiary Woven Planet, also invested, kicking off the fund’s portfolio.

Uber entices drivers back post-pandemic with $250 million stimulus

By Rebecca Bellan

Despite the classification of ride-hail drivers as “essential workers” during the early days of the pandemic, last April Uber’s business dropped by 80%. Drivers decided they’d rather not risk contracting or spreading COVID-19 for the measly revenue provided by the few rides per day they were getting, so when the federal CARES Act extended the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance to gig workers, many Uber drivers decided to hang up their keys. 

With more than a quarter of the U.S. population already vaccinated, Uber is now in a sticky situation wherein there are more riders requesting trips than there are drivers available. The ride-hailing giant not only wants drivers to know that there’s business to be had once again, but they also want to sweeten the deal with incentives. 

On Wednesday, the company announced the launch of a $250 million driver stimulus to welcome drivers back into the fold and recruit new ones as the pandemic begins to ease in the U.S. Both returning drivers and new drivers will be receiving bonuses over the coming months, according to an Uber spokesperson.  

“In 2020, many drivers stopped driving because they couldn’t count on getting enough trips to make it worth their time,” reads the blog post announcing the stimulus. “In 2021, there are more riders requesting trips than there are drivers available to give them—making it a great time to be a driver.”

Due to high rider demand and low supply of drivers, the current median hourly rate for cities like Philadelphia, Austin, Chicago, Miami and Phoenix is $26.66, which is 25% to 75% higher than they were in March of last year. Uber wants drivers to take advantage of the higher earnings now because “this is likely a temporary situation.” Meaning as the country recovers and more gig workers get back behind the wheel, earnings will likely decrease from their current levels. 

The stimulus money will go on top of those hourly rates, a spokesperson told TechCrunch. The incentive structure will be based on individual activity, as well as location. For example, in Austin, drivers are guaranteed $1,100 if they complete 115 trips. In Phoenix, drivers can earn an extra $1,775 for 200 trips. 

The money will also go towards guaranteed minimum pay and on-boarding for new Uber drivers, and the full $250 million pool is coming directly from Uber’s pockets. The company’s shares declined as much as 3.6% during trading on Wednesday. 

Uber is also aiming to help streamline the process of getting drivers vaccinated with an in-app booking portal as part of its partnership with Walgreens.

Spain’s Glovo picks up $528M as Europe’s food delivery market continues to heat up

By Ingrid Lunden

On the heels of Deliveroo raising more than $2 billion ahead of its debut on the London Stock Exchange this week, another hopeful in the food delivery sector has closed a super-sized round. Glovo, a startup out of Spain with 10 million users that delivers restaurant take-out, groceries and other items in partnership with brick-and-mortar businesses, has picked up a Series F of $528 million (€450 million).

Glovo aims to become the market leader in the 20 markets in Europe where it is live today, in part by expanding its “q-commerce” service — the delivery of items to urban consumers in 30 minutes or less — and it will be using the money to double down on that strategy, including hiring up to 200 more engineers to work in its headquarters in Barcelona, as well as hubs in Madrid and Warsaw, Poland.

This is a milestone funding round not just for the company, but its home country: it marks the largest-ever round raised by a Spanish startup.

“We started in Spain, where you have access to far less capital than other countries in Europe. We do more with less and that’s made us leaner,” said Sacha Michaud, the co-founder of the company, in an interview this week. “We’ve got our own strategy and it seems to be working.”

The funding is being led by Lugard Road Capital and Luxor Capital Group (the former is an affiliate of the latter), with Delivery Hero, Drake Enterprises and GP Bullhound also participating. All are previous backers of Glovo.

“We’re thrilled to have the continued backing of Luxor Capital Group and all of our existing investors. Over the last few months, we’ve moved very, very quickly but our vision remains unchanged,” said Oscar Pierre, Glovo’s other co-founder and CEO, in a statement. “This investment will allow us to double-down in our core markets, accelerate our leadership position in places where we are already very strong and continue to expand our excellent Q-Commerce division, as well as bring new innovations to our unique multi-category offering to extend more choice to our customers.”

Valuation is not being disclosed with this round, but when it raised its $166 million Series E in December 2019 — just ahead of the Covid-19 pandemic that truly changed the face of delivery services in many parts of the world — the company had a valuation of $1.18 billion, according to PitchBook data. Michaud would only confirm to me that it was “definitely an up-round,” which would put it at at least $1.7 billion, based on that estimate.

The funding comes on the heels of a very busy period of fundraising in the sector as investors the race to get in on the delivery of hot food, groceries and other necessities in Europe — a fast-growing business model in the most normal of times that blasted off in the last year as an essential service for consumers confined to their homes, often by government mandate, to stave off the spread of the coronavirus.

Just in the last week, Gorillas in Berlin raised $290 million on a $1 billion+ valuation for its on-demand grocery business; Everli out of Italy (formerly called Supermercato24) raised $100 million (Luxor is one of its investors too); Turkey’s Getir — also rapidly expanding across Europe — picked up $300 million on a $2.6 billion valuation as Sequoia took its first bite into the European food market; and reportedly Zapp in London has also closed $100 million in funding. Earlier in March, Rohlik out of the Czech Republic bagged $230 million.

Amid all those private raises, we also had Deliveroo’s IPO yesterday, which — as IPOs so often do — exposed some of the trickier aspects of the business. The company — which is backed by Amazon, a formidable player in food and essentials delivery — easily raised the most of money of the month — $2.1 billion in the private placement ahead of the listing — but then proceeded to slog out its debut on the LSE with shares progressively slumping throughout the day and ending up significantly lower than its offer price.

Areas of concern around Deliveroo serve as cautionary tales for all of them: not just how you price an IPO and what allocation you give to future shareholders, but also the unit economics of your business model, the price of competition, and where labor costs will fit into the bigger picture (and the bottom line).

“We’ve got our own road and we’re doing a pretty good job,” Michaud said in an interview when the subject of Deliveroo IPO came up. “We’re still David versus the Goliath out there.” Part of that for Glovo has also included some decisions made on rationalizing its own business: the company sold off its Latin American operations in a $272 million deal to its backer Delivery Hero last year to focus solely on Europe and adjacent geographies.

But even before the Series F being announced today, Glovo itself was one of the companies raising money for specific purposes, and those efforts point to how it plans to proceed in the weeks and months ahead on its own growth plan.

In January Glovo announced a strategic deal with Swiss real-estate firm Stoneweg, which pitched in €100 million ($117 million), to co-develop a number of “dark stores” in areas where Glovo already operates to improve its distribution networks and help speed up its delivery times.

It’s part of a fulfillment operation that complements the hot food that Glovo sells on behalf of its restaurant partners: the dark stores are stocked with items Glovo sells on behalf of other companies such as Carrefour, Continente, and Kaufland, as well as a lot of independent retailers, companies that have not built their own (costly) B2C delivery networks but have wanted to provide that service to consumers nonetheless.

Although the company today promises deliveries in 29 minutes, in many markets, Michaud said, it’s already averaging 10-15 minutes and the aim is to make that the norm everywhere. This is in part an operational challenge, but also a technical one: this is one reason why the company is adding in more engineers and building out its platform.

Restaurant delivery of hot food remains the biggest category of business for Glovo, he added, but the company has seen a surge of demand for the other kinds of items and is expanding that accordingly.

“With Covid, we’ve been delivering pretty much anything you want in your city,” Michaud said. “Covid has been an accelerator and has educated the market. Instead of crossing city and spending time waiting and buying items, anything I want and Glovo will bring it to me. Why wouldn’t I do this?” He believes the more traditional rush of people doing in-person shopping is “definitely not gong to come back,” with groceries to be in the same position as restaurants in a couple of years. That’s leading the company to expand into more areas: “clothing, fashion and pharmacy, flowers. Hopefully we’re now in a good position to do that.”

Labor deliberations

That position, of course, will involve an important component of this three-sided marketplace. In addition to the restaurants and retailers that partner with Glovo, and the consumers who use the app to buy and get things delivered, there are the delivery people and couriers that do the first- and last-mile work to get the goods into the system, and then to customers. The couriers in the system work today largely on a freelance basis, often balancing jobs on competing apps, and their efforts, and how they are compensated for them, have been the focus of a lot of scrutiny both here and in the U.S.

In short: the companies say couriers have an amazing opportunity to earn money; but many couriers and organizations supporting their cause believe the reality to be far from that.

That has played out with a number of very public protests and is starting now to trickle into formal legal moves to ensure these workers’ rights. Apart from the ethical angle here, it’s of concern also to investors focused more on the bottom line and the costs that they might mean for businesses that already work on thin margins (or in many cases, losses). Indeed, it’s very likely that these issues formed part of what weighed on Deliveroo in its public listing and poor debut.

This has also been playing out for Glovo very directly. The company lost a supreme court case in Spain in September last year, where the court rejected its attempt to classify a courier as self-employed rather than an employee. Now, the country is working on more formal reforms to put in place guidelines and requirements for companies to mandate benefits to those workers. That will take some time to play out, and in the meantime there are also wider European efforts underway to harmonize the approach across all countries in the EU.

This is a complicated issue, but essentially Glovo advocates to keep the couriers as self-employed, but supports the idea of benefits provided to those workers nonetheless by those taking their services (such as Glovo), and it wants the approach to be Europe-wide.

“We think there needs to be more social rights for workers,” Michaud said. “We believe in a freelance model with additional social rights that companies like Glovo would give them, but in many countries the regulations are not there for that to happen.”

But it’s also not all cut-and-dry since it doesn’t support some of the other aspects of that labor reform. “We think the rigid strict tables and minimum wages are not the way to fix the problem,” he added, explaining that the flexibility of the business model does not support that. In short, it’s negotiating and hoping that it can claw in some expenses while conceding others.

Investors seem ready for these kinds of questions and their longer-term impact, given that the trade-off for them is a foothold in what has been one of the most successful tech efforts in the region.

“Our investment in Glovo reflects our commitment to a company and leadership team that continues to innovate and disrupt in the on-demand delivery space,” said Jonathan Green, founder and porfolio manager at Lugard Road Capital, in a statement. “As a long-term investor in Glovo, we are excited to watch the company continue to delight its customers through its unique multi-category offering, amidst an enormous market opportunity in both existing and new geographies.”

Berlin’s Blacklane raises $26M to expand its high-end chauffeur-driven sustainable car service

By Ingrid Lunden

As the Ubers of the world continue to scale, a smaller on-demand transportation startup has raised some funding in Germany, underscoring the opportunities that remain for startups in the space targeting specific service niches. Blacklane — the Berlin startup that provides on-demand black-car chauffeur services in Berlin, London, Dubai, Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Singapore and 16 other cities — has closed a round of €22 million ($26 million at current rates). After taking a majority stake in Havn, the Jaguar-hatched electric car service in London, in February, Blacklen said that it will be using this latest round of funding to continue expanding sustainable travel initiatives, and to continue expanding its existing business with more flexible options for riding.

The funding, which is being made at an upround valuation, is a sign of how the company is showing signs of growth after a year in which monthly revenues dropped 99% in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting drop in travel, and specifically people willing to be in small spaces that are shared with others.

“The global travel and mobility industries have suffered, with several players struggling between drastic cuts, hibernation or ceasing operations. Blacklane has taken the opportunity to cater to travelers’ emerging needs,” said Dr. Jens Wohltorf, CEO and co-founder of Blacklane, in a statement. “Thanks to this financing, we will continue to fast-track our innovation, with zero layoffs.”

The company said that the investment is coming from existing investors German automotive giant Daimler, the UAE’s ALFAHIM Group and btov Partners. And while it is coming at an upround, Blacklane is not disclosing any figures, nor has it ever disclosed valuation. Previous backers of the company also include the strategic investment arm of Recruit Holdings, the Japanese HR giant, and it has raised around $100 million to date, including a round of about $45 million in 2018.

The funding is coming after what has been an extremely rough year for travel and transportation startups due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with Blacklane itself seeing monthly revenues drop 99% after the pandemic hit last year, the company tells me.

Some others in the space that diversified into other areas like food delivery or other kinds of transport (eg, bikes or scooters) were able to offset declines in their more core ride-hailing services, which in the meantime were repositioned as a safer alternative to public transportation. Blacklane, however, had never positioned itself as a ride for “everyman” — its core use case were higher-end rides and airport trips (which had also died a death) — so when movement shut down, so Blacklane’s business nosedived.

It was particularly bad timing for Blacklane, considering that in the lead up to the pandemic, it looked to be on course to turn a profit on its focused model.

The reason that Blacklane has managed to raise at an upround tells another side of the story, however.

As companies in transport and travel gingerly started to show the smaller signs of recovery last summer, so too did Blacklane. It coupled that with the first steps of diversification itself.

Earlier this month, it added “chauffeur hailing” in 22 cities, an on-demand service that reduced the lead time for an order to under 30 minutes (its previous service was based on more advanced bookings). It also changed its pricing structure to get more competitive on shorter distances, since so many of the airport rides that were the basis of its revenues have yet to return.

In addition to that, Blacklane took a majority stake in Havn, an electric-based car service hatched by Jaguar, for an undisclosed sum, to spearhead a move into more sustainable travel options alongside the fleet of Teslas already operated by Blacklane.

“Worldwide travel restrictions give us a one-time chance to reset our expectations for safe and sustainable trips,” said Wohltorf in a statement. “Blacklane will recover responsibly and continue to grow while caring for both people and the planet.”

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