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Gogoro announces Yamaha, Aeon and PGO are the first manufacturers that will use its swappable batteries in their own scooters

By Catherine Shu

Gogoro, the Taiwanese electric vehicle company, has announced its first manufacturing partners. Yamaha, Aeon Motor and PGO will all launch new scooters this summer that run on Gogoro’s swappable batteries and charging infrastructure.

This means consumers who like Gogoro’s battery system will have a choice between buying Gogoro’s own scooters or scooters from its three partners. All scooters that use Gogoro’s energy network can exchange batteries at the 1,300 GoStations currently in Taiwan.

Beyond its own electric scooters, Gogoro sees its technology, most of which is developed in-house, as an open platform for electric vehicles, with the goal of reducing pollution in cities with heavy traffic. It recently launched a ridesharing platform that can be used as a white-label solution by companies that want to launch their own electric scooter-sharing program (Gogoro’s scooters are already use by Coup, the European ridesharing startup).

For a deeper look into the company’s origins and plans, Extra Crunch subscribers can read a recently published interview with Gogoro co-founder and CEO Horace Luke.

Startups Weekly: SoftBank’s second act

By Kate Clark

Hello and welcome back to Startups Weekly, a weekend newsletter that dives into the week’s noteworthy startups and venture capital news. Before I jump into today’s topic, let’s catch up a bit. Last week, I noted some challenges plaguing mental health tech startups. Before that, I wrote about Zoom and Superhuman’s PR disasters.

Remember, you can send me tips, suggestions and feedback to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or on Twitter @KateClarkTweets. If you don’t subscribe to Startups Weekly yet, you can do that here.

Anyway, onto the subject on everyone’s mind this week: SoftBank’s second Vision Fund.

Well into the evening on Thursday, SoftBank announced a target of $108 billion for the Vision Fund 2. Yes, you read that correctly, $108 billion. SoftBank indeed plans to raise even more capital for its sophomore vehicle than it did for the record-breaking debut vision fund of $98 billion, which was majority-backed by the government funds of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, as well as Apple, Foxconn and several other limited partners.

Its upcoming fund, to which SoftBank itself has committed $38 billion, has attracted investment from the National Investment Corporation of National Bank of Kazakhstan, Apple, Foxconn, Goldman Sachs, Microsoft and more. Microsoft, a new LP for SoftBank, reportedly hopped on board with the Japanese telecom giant as part of a grand scheme to convince the massive fund’s portfolio companies to transition to Microsoft Azure, the company’s cloud platform that competes with Amazon Web Services . Here’s more on that and some analysis from TechCrunch editor Jonathan Shieber.

News of the second Vision Fund comes as somewhat of a surprise. We’d heard SoftBank was having some trouble landing commitments for the effort. Why? Well, because SoftBank’s investments have included a wide-range of upstarts, including some uncertain bets. Brandless, a company into which SoftBank injected a lot of money, has struggled in recent months, for example. Wag is said to be going downhill fast. And WeWork, backed with billions from SoftBank, still has a lot to prove.

Here’s everything else we know about The Vision Fund 2:

  • It’s focused on the “AI revolution through investment in market-leading, tech-enabled growth companies.”
  • The full list of investors also includes seven Japanese financial institutions: Mizuho Bank, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, MUFG Bank, The Dai-ichi Life Insurance Company, Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank, SMBC Nikko Securities and Daiwa Securities Group. Also, international banking services provider Standard Chartered Bank, as well as “major participants from Taiwan.”
  • The $108 billion figure is based on memoranda of understandings (MOUs), or agreements for future investment from the aforementioned entities. That means SoftBank hasn’t yet collected all this capital, aside from the $38 billion it plans to invest itself in the new Vision Fund.
  • Saudi and Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth funds are not listed as investors in the new fund.
  • SoftBank is expected to begin deploying capital fund from Fund 2 immediately, and a first close is expected in two months, per The Financial Times.
  • We’ll keep you updated on the Vision Fund 2’s investments, fundraising efforts and more as we learn about them.

On to other news…

iHeartMedia And WeWork's "Work Radio" Launch Party

IPO Corner

WeWork is planning a September listing

The company made headlines again this week after word slipped it was accelerating its IPO plans and targeting a September listing. We don’t know much about its IPO plans yet as we are still waiting on the co-working business to unveil its S-1 filing. Whether WeWork can match or exceed its current private market valuation of $47 billion is unlikely. I expect it will pull an Uber and struggle, for quite some time, to earn a market cap larger than what VCs imagined it was worth months earlier.

Robinhood had a wild week

The consumer financial app made headlines twice this week. The first time because it raised a whopping $323 million at a $7.6 billion valuation. That is a whole lot of money for a business that just raised a similarly sized monster round one year ago. In fact, it left us wondering, why the hell is Robinhood worth $7.6 billion? Then, in a major security faux pas, the company revealed it has been storing user passwords in plaintext. So, go change your Robinhood password and don’t trust any business to value your security. Sigh.

Another day, another huge fintech round

While we’re on the subject on fintech, TechCrunch editor Danny Crichton noted this week the rise of mega-rounds in the fintech space. This week, it was personalized banking app MoneyLion, which raised $100 million at a near unicorn valuation. Last week, it was N26, which raised another $170 million on top of its $300 million round earlier this yearBrex raised another $100 million last month on top of its $125 million Series C from late last year. Meanwhile, companies like payments platform Stripesavings and investment platform Raisintraveler lender Uplift, mortgage backers Blend and Better and savings depositor Acorns have also raised massive new rounds this year. Naturally, VC investment in fintech is poised to reach record levels this year, according to PitchBook.

Uber’s changing board

Arianna Huffington, the CEO of Thrive Global, stepped down from Uber’s board of directors this week, a team she had been apart of since 2016. She addressed the news in a tweet, explaining that there were no disagreements between her and the company, rather, she was busy and had other things to focus on. Fair. Benchmark’s Matt Cohler also stepped down from the board this week, which leads us to believe the ride-hailing giant’s advisors are in a period of transition. If you remember, Uber’s first employee and longtime board member Ryan Graves stepped down from the board in May, just after the company’s IPO. 

Today I told my fellow @Uber board members that given @Thrive's growth, I will no longer be able to give my board duties the attention they deserve, so I will be stepping down. I look forward to watching Uber go from strength to strength! Here is the email I sent to the board: pic.twitter.com/sck0CPLwAV

— Arianna Huffington (@ariannahuff) July 24, 2019

Startup Capital

Unity, now valued at $6B, raising up to $525M
Bird is raising a Sequoia-led Series D at $2.5B valuation
SMB payroll startup Gusto raises $200M Series D
Elon Musk’s Boring Company snags $120M
a16z values camping business HipCamp at $127M
An inside look at the startup behind Ashton Kutcher’s weird tweets
Dataplor raises $2M to digitize small businesses in Latin America

Extra Crunch

While we’re on the subject of amazing TechCrunch #content, it’s probably time for a reminder for all of you to sign up for Extra Crunch. For a low price, you can learn more about the startups and venture capital ecosystem through exclusive deep dives, Q&As, newsletters, resources and recommendations and fundamental startup how-to guides. Here are some of my current favorite EC posts:

  1. What types of startups are the most profitable?
  2. The roles tools play in employee engagement
  3. What to watch for in a VC term sheet

#Equitypod

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Equity co-host Alex Wilhelm, TechCrunch editor Danny Crichton and I unpack Robinhood’s valuation and argue about scooter startups. Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast and Spotify.

That’s all, folks.

Alibaba to help Salesforce localize and sell in China

By Rita Liao

Salesforce, the 20-year-old leader in customer relationship management (CRM) tools, is making a foray into Asia by working with one of the country’s largest tech firms, Alibaba.

Alibaba will be the exclusive provider of Salesforce to enterprise customers in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan, and Salesforce will become the exclusive enterprise CRM software suite sold by Alibaba, the companies announced on Thursday.

The Chinese internet has for years been dominated by consumer-facing services such as Tencent’s WeChat messenger and Alibaba’s Taobao marketplace, but enterprise software is starting to garner strong interest from businesses and investors. Workflow automation startup Laiye, for example, recently closed a $35 million funding round led by Cathay Innovation, a growth-stage fund that believes “enterprise software is about to grow rapidly” in China.

The partners have something to gain from each other. Alibaba does not have a Salesforce equivalent serving the raft of small-and-medium businesses selling through its e-commerce marketplaces or using its cloud computing services, so the alliance with the American cloud behemoth will fill that gap.

On the other hand, Salesforce will gain sales avenues in China through Alibaba, whose cloud infrastructure and data platform will help the American firm “offer localized solutions and better serve its multinational customers,” said Ken Shen, vice president of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence, in a statement.

“More and more of our multinational customers are asking us to support them wherever they do business around the world. That’s why today Salesforce announced a strategic partnership with Alibaba,” said Salesforce in a statement.

Overall, only about 10% of Salesforce revenues in the three months ended April 30 originated from Asia, compared to 20% from Europe and 70% from the Americas.

Besides gaining client acquisition channels, the tie-up also enables Salesforce to store its China-based data at Alibaba Cloud. China requires all overseas companies to work with a domestic firm in processing and storing data sourced from Chinese users.

“The partnership ensures that customers of Salesforce that have operations in the Greater China area will have exclusive access to a locally-hosted version of Salesforce from Alibaba Cloud, who understands local business, culture and regulations,” an Alibaba spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Cloud has been an important growth vertical at Alibaba and nabbing a heavyweight ally will only strengthen its foothold as China’s biggest cloud service provider. Salesforce made some headway in Asia last December when it set up a $100 million fund to invest in Japanese enterprise startups and the latest partnership with Alibaba will see the San Francisco-based firm actually go after customers in Asia.

Smart scooter company Gogoro launches GoShare, an end-to-end vehicle-sharing platform

By Catherine Shu

Founded in 2011, Gogoro now makes the best-selling electric scooters in Taiwan, where it is headquartered. The startup has always seen itself as an end-to-end platform developer, however, and today it marked a major milestone with the announcement of a new vehicle sharing system. Called GoShare, the program will start operating with a pilot fleet of about 1,000 Gogoro smart scooters next month in Taoyuan City, Taiwan, before becoming available as a turnkey solution for partners.

Gogoro, which develops everything from their scooters and batteries to software, telematics control units and back-end servers, describes GoShare as “first fully integrated mobility sharing platform and solution.” Co-founder and CEO Horace Luke tells TechCrunch that Gogoro wants to work with partners to expand GoShare into international markets in Europe, Australia and Asia next year. He adds that building the entire platform, including its unique swappable battery system, gives Gogoro an advantage over vehicle-sharing programs from companies like Uber, Lyft, Lime, Bird and Coup because it can constantly track vehicle performance, fine-tune the system and incorporate feedback into new designs.

One of Gogoro scooters’ main advantages is their batteries, which are about the size of shoeboxes and slide in and out of scooters and charging kiosks. In Taiwan, batteries can be swapped at kiosks found at gas stations and more offbeat locations, including retail stores and cafes. GoShare scooters can use the same kiosks as privately owned Gogoro vehicles. This means that users can keep riding the same vehicle all day, swapping batteries whenever necessary (on average, Gogoro scooters can travel about 80 km on one charge). Once they are done using them, they can leave them wherever it is legal to park scooters.

Battery 20150616 02 0617

“We’re a platform, we create hardware, software and server technology to serve the transportation of the future and if we can make cities cleaner and healthier, we will do it anyway possible, whether through ownership and charging batteries at home or buying scooters and swapping batteries in the system we provide or, in this case, not even buying a vehicle, but sharing it,” says Luke.

To sign up, users download an iOS or Android app and upload a photo of their driver’s license. Gogoro then uses AI-based face scanning software to check if they match the license’s photo before asking for payment information. Once enrolled, drivers can use the app to locate and reserve scooters. GoShare’s pricing has not been announced yet, but Luke says it will be competitive with public transportation. Gogoro is working with Taoyuan City’s government to offer incentives like free parking in an effort to reduce pollution and traffic.

In a press statement, Taoyuan City Mayor Wen-Tsan Cheng said, “We are confident this Gogoro partnership will continue producing remarkable reductions in air pollution caused by vehicle emissions and will accelerate the transformation of Taoyuan into a smart, livable city.”

With other vehicle-sharing systems, “it has always been the dream to have the vehicles be free-floating and autonomous in management. But they are not autonomous,” says Luke. “Most are used once or twice a day because they run out of power, or the battery is low and people are worried about them running out of energy. That is where Gogoro comes in, because we have a network that enables people to ride vehicles for as long as they want.”

There are currently about 1,200 charging kiosks in Taiwan, with about 200 in Taoyuan City, delivering power to about 200,000 scooters. Eight years after it launched, Luke says Gogoro now holds a 97% share of electric scooters sold each month in the country. When counted as part of the larger vehicle market in Taiwan, including gas vehicles, Gogoro now holds a 17% share.

Luke says the company sees Taiwan, where scooters are very popular but also a major contributor to air pollution, as Gogoro’s pilot market. It recently launched the Gogoro 3, and announced partnerships with Yamaha, Aeon and PGO to develop scooters that will run on its batteries.

The ultimate goal of Gogoro’s end-to-end system is to package it as a turnkey solution for partners around the world, says Luke. “You don’t need to shop around anymore. You can come to us with your vehicle-sharing program and say you want to turn it on.”

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