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Yesterday — January 14th 2021Your RSS feeds

Digital road freight forwarder Sennder raises $160M Series, plans European expansion

By Mike Butcher

Sennder, a large digital road freight forwarder based out of Germany, has raised $160m in Series D financing. The round was led by an unnamed party, but round participants included Accel, Lakestar, HV Capital, Project A and Scania. To date, Sennder has raised more than $260m, allowing it to lay claim to a potential $1bn valuation.

Sennder directly connects enterprise shippers with trucking companies, thus disintermediating the traditional freight model. It says it will move over 1 million truckloads this year. So far it’s concentrated on the lucrative European market. In June 2020 it merged with French competitor Everoad and acquired Uber Freight’s European business last September. The European logistics and freight sector has a market size of $427bn.

Sennder competes with large incumbents like Wincanton and CH Robinson as well as other startups such as OnTrac in Spin, and Instafreight.

The whole digital freight forwarding market is booming. Only last November, Germany’s Forto, a digital freight forwarder raised another $50 million in funding taking its total raised to $103 million. And in 2018 FreightHub, another European digital freight forwarder, raised $30 million in Series B financing.

Sennder’s new investment will mean it can expand in European markets. It already partners with Poste Italiane in Italy, as well as Scania and Siemens, and is now supplying transport services to over 10 organizations listed in the German DAX 30, and 11 companies comprising the Euro Stoxx 50.

Since its founding in 2015 by David Nothacker, Julius Köhler and Nicolaus Schefenacker, the company has grown to 800 employees and seven international offices.

David Nothacker, CEO and Co-Founder of Sennder, said: “We are now an established industry player on equal terms with other more traditional sector pioneers, but have maintained our founding spirit. As a data-driven company, we contribute to making the logistics industry fit for a sustainable future; ensuring transparency, flexibility and efficiency in the distribution of goods. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of a digitalized logistics industry.

Sonali De Rycker, Partner at Accel commented: “It is always fantastic to see a portfolio company reach such a significant milestone. 2020 highlighted the value that Sennder’s innovative digital offering brings to the freight industry.”

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Uber expands green rides option to 1,400 cities

By Kirsten Korosec

Uber has expanded a program that incentivizes drivers to use all-electric and hybrid vehicles to more than 1,400 cities in North America including Austin, Houston, Miami and New York City as part of the ride-hailing company’s broader plan to become a zero-emission platform by 2040.

The program, known as Uber Green, gives customers the option to request an EV or hybrid electric vehicle. Drivers receive an extra $0.50 from a $1 rider surcharge for every Uber Green trip completed. Uber said Tuesday it is integrating the program into its Uber Pass membership service and will give members 10% off on “green” trips, the same discount provided for a standard ride.

Of course, the success of Uber Green hinges on its ability to get drivers to make the switch. The company has set aside $800 million to get its drivers to use electric vehicles by 2025.

Now, it’s beginning to roll out programs through partnerships with automakers, charging network providers, and EV rental and fleet companies to provide further incentives. Uber said Tuesday drivers in Los Angeles can rent electric vehicles through a partnership with Avis. The program will expand nationwide in 2021.  

Uber has also partnered with Ample. Starting this month, drivers in San Francisco can rent a vehicle with Ample battery swapping technology, which lets switch out the electric vehicle batteries in minutes. 

The company has also expanded its partnership with EVgo to give drivers on its ride-hailing platform access to charging discounts at more than 800 U.S. locations.

Uber’s zero-emission goal will require more than getting drivers and riders to use EVs. The company is expanding other programs as well, including its journey planning feature for public transit users. The feature, which is now available in more than 40 cities globally, is accessed through the Uber app and lets users plan their public transit journey and includes walking directions to stations and real-time schedules. The company said Tuesday it has added the feature for users in Atlanta, Auckland, Brisbane, Buenos Aires, Guadalajara, Philadelphia, Rome, Bangalore, Chennai, and Mumbai. 

Uber said it is also bringing a multimodal trip planner that combines ride-hailing with walking directions and city bus, subway, or train connections to Mexico City and London. The feature launched in Sydney and Chicago. 

Uber and Moderna partner on COVID-19 vaccine access and information

By Darrell Etherington

Uber and pharmaceutical company Moderna have announced a partnership around COVID-19 vaccination, which will include a number of different initiatives. To start, it’s only confirmed component is to provide users with credible, factual information about COVID-19 vaccine safety through Uber’s consumer app, but the companies have also discussed additional “options” including building ride scheduling via Uber directly into the immunization appointment booking process.

Still in its early days, the U.S. COVID-19 vaccination program is already beset with challenges, including providing timely access to vaccines to swaths of the population who need it most. The inoculation program also has to contend with significant misinformation proliferating on social media about vaccine safety, and any app with the surface area of something like Uber has a chance to get positive messages and accurate information in front of a lot of people, so that’s good news on its own.

But one of the very real challenges to an effective vaccination campaign remains logistical, and getting people to make their initial and follow-up appointments for the first round of the Moderna vaccine, and its second shot booster, is a bigger challenge than many might suspect. I spoke to Healthvana CEO Ramin Bastani about their work with  LA County on creating an immunization record that integrates with Apple Wallet to provide patients with timely info and reminders about vaccination appointments, but integrating a ride-booking service or appointment reminder directly in the Uber app that most users already have on their phone anyway could be another very effective way to increase success rates for first and follow-up inoculation visits.

Uber has already offered up free and discounted rides to help lower the friction of actually going out and getting a vaccine, but a product-level integration could do a lot more than that by providing easy, user-friendly access. As noted, this is still just one of the options being discussed, but if Uber and Moderna are willing to commit it to print, that at least means they’re serious about trying to find a way. We’re holding them to account, too, so rest assured we’ll follow up on their progress as this collaboration develops.

The Station: The 2021 predictions issue, part two

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 Sunday in your inbox

Hi friends and new 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.

Last week, I provided some of my predictions for 2021 focused on autonomous vehicle technology and electric vehicles. I’ll weigh in today with a few predictions about the rest of the “future of transportation” sector, including ride-hailing, on-demand delivery and in-car tech.

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, here’s the remaining predictions for the 2021.

Delivery the-station-delivery

On-demand delivery will continue to grow even as consumers return to physical stores, which will put pressure on the logistics ecosystem. The retailers that have the best success will be the ones that have locked in multiple channels to get their “goods” to the consumer.

Big retailers and even smaller local stores have come to understand that their physical location has become an extended part of the supply chain. Startups that have developed platforms to make it easier to manage inventory and get it to the consumer will continue to pop up.

Meanwhile, the increase in demand for delivery will encourage giants like Amazon and Walmart invest in technological solutions to meet their needs. This might include partnering with or acquiring startups. (This goes beyond interests in longer term efforts like autonomous vehicle delivery).

Delivery apps such as Uber Eats, DoorDash and Instacart will face increased scrutiny for use of gig economy workers as well as whether businesses benefit from using them. This may very well spawn local businesses to find their own in-house solutions. Demand will rise for digital tools that help optimize delivery fleets and platforms designed to help companies gets goods to consumers without relying on Uber, DoorDash and others.

Restaurant groups will pull together to offer delivery hubs from ghost kitchens, a prediction that mirrors one shared with me from Khaled Naim, the CEO last mile delivery management software startup Onfleet. I believe local stores will make the same efforts. 

I expect more pitches from companies hawking curbside management tools and subscription delivery platforms.

On the ride-hailing front, shuttle companies like Via will continue to grow (despite concerns about sharing rides) and make acquisitions to round out their current offerings. Via will continue to sell its platform to cities as opposed to standing up more of its own operations. Via handles booking, routing, passenger and vehicle assignment and identification, customer experience and fleet management. And it will likely look for ways to broaden its services to become more appealing.

In-car tech

Some of the trends that started two years ago will continue to play out. Automakers are increasing the size and display resolution of infotainment screens in its vehicles. Sadly, only a handful will unlock the more important piece of the infotainment system: the user interface.

Two announcements this past week — one from holographic startup Envisics and the other from Mercedes — hint at what’s to come in 2021.

Mercedes unveiled January 7 its next-generation MBUX Hyperscreen, which features a 56-inch curved screen that runs the length of the dashboard. The MBUX Hyperscreen will be optional in the 2022 Mercedes EQS, the flagship sedan under the automaker’s electric EQ brand.

Mercedes-EQ. MBUX Hyperscreen

Mercedes-EQ. MBUX Hyperscreen. Image Credits: Mercedes-Benz

I’m interested and maybe even encouraged (I have yet to test it) in the UI. Mercedes chose to put information on charging, entertainment, phone, navigation, social media, connectivity and massage — yes massage — right up front on the screen. This means no scrolling through menus or using the voice assistant to locate these options.

The system’s software, which will learn the patterns of the driver, will prompt the user, removing any need to go deeper into the sub-menu. The navigation map is always visible in the center and located just below it are the controls for the phone and entertainment — or the feature that best suits the specific situation, according to the automaker.

Meanwhile, Envisics announced a partnership with Panasonic Automotive Systems to jointly develop and commercialize a new generation of head-up displays for cars, trucks and SUVs.

Envisics’ technology allows for head-up displays to have higher resolution, wide color gamut and large images that can be overlaid upon reality. The technology can also project information at multiple distances simultaneously. The company’s founder Jamieson Christmas told me that in the short term this will provide relatively simple augmented reality applications like navigation, highlighting the lane you’re supposed to be in and some safety applications.

Envisics Navigation

Image Credits: Envisics

“But as you look forward into things like autonomous driving it unlocks a whole realm of other opportunities like entertainment and video conferencing,” he said.

Finally, I expect more chatter and maybe even deployments of driver monitoring systems as automakers roll out more advanced driver assistance systems that allow for “hands-free” operations in certain conditions.

I want to stress however, that having a DMS is only part of the solution. The safe operation of an advanced driver assistance system comes down to how well the driver understands the features and can easily see or hear when they’re on and off. A number of vehicle models, with the regular ol’ less “advanced versions of ADAS, already fail at properly communicating to drivers when features are on and off. My hope for 2021 and beyond is that there’s an effort to improve this shortfall.

For those who missed last week’s predictions, here is my recap on AVs and EVs.

the station autonomous vehicles1

Autonomous vehicles

The wave of consolidation that began in 2020 will continue this year, leaving fewer players that are aiming to commercialize autonomous vehicle technology in three distinct areas: robotaxis, trucking and delivery.

In 2020, Starsky Robotics shut down, Uber sold its self-driving subsidiary to Aurora and autonomous delivery startup Nuro acquired Ike Robotics. This evolution is not yet complete.

I’ll be paying attention to the activities of all the big AV players including Cruise, Motional, Waymo and Zoox. I’m particularly interested in how Aurora will handle absorbing Uber ATG into its operations. I’m also watching for progress at Argo AI, which has spent the past several months integrating VW’s self-driving subsidiary Autonomous Intelligent Driving (AID) into its operations.

I expect big moves by the often-overlooked Voyage, including new partnerships and driverless operations.

Autonomous delivery will see the most investment, consolidation and commercialization activity in 2021. This won’t be the year when autonomous delivery becomes ubiquitous. But expect more pilot programs in urban, and even suburban and rural areas as companies try to figure out what environment and form factor — sidewalk bots, purpose-built vehicles that operate on roads or drones — produces the best economics.

New regionally focused entrants will pop up in 2021 and drone delivery companies will expand to larger geofenced areas.

I’m also curious to see what becomes of Postmates’ autonomous robot now that Uber has completed its acquisition of the on-demand delivery company.

Nuro R2 delivery bot

Nuro’s second-generation R2 delivery robot. Image credit: Nuro

Companies pursuing autonomous trucking are going to learn that long-haul logistics are more difficult and expensive than previously thought. While companies will continue to focus on Class 8 trucks that can operate without a human, expect greater activity in the so-called middle-mile logistics market. This is an area that startup Gatik AI has targeted with some successful results.

The middle-mile market, in which autonomous trucks run frequent trips from large distribution centers to local retailers, will become increasingly important as consumers continue to order groceries and other goods online. Amazon, Walmart and Kroger are just a few of the large and deep-pocketed companies keenly interested in finding faster and cheaper ways to move goods. Expect more investments and even acquisitions from big retailers.

Autonomous vehicle regulations in the United States will shift in 2021 due to the new Biden Administration. The changes won’t happen immediately; there will be far more activity in 2022 and beyond. But there will be change nonetheless.

The Trump Administration has taken a light touch to autonomous vehicle development and deployment, choosing to stick with voluntary guidelines instead of creating new mandatory rules. For instance, last month the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration posted a notice that clarified AV policy and seemed to make the path to deployment much easier. (Read the details in my Dec. 21 newsletter)

President-elect Joe Biden nominated former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg as the next Secretary of Transportation, a Cabinet position that will have him overseeing the Federal Highway Administration and NHTSA among other roles. The expectation is that Buttigieg will lead the charge (ahem) for electric charging infrastructure. What’s less clear is how he and the Biden Administration will approach automated vehicle technology and the advanced driver assistance systems found in today’s modern vehicles.

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, the automotive industry group, released its four-year plan last month for how it wants the federal government to act. The group made 14 recommendations that includes reforming regulations to allow for AV deployment at scale. Expect the Alliance for Automotive Innovation to push for a national AV pilot program and a new vehicle class for AVs.

Electric vehicles

the station electric vehicles1

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

A bevy of new electric vehicles from startups and legacy automakers will arrive in 2021. The Lucid Air, Rivian R1T and R1S, Audi Q4 etron and Nissan Ariya will come to market, while production ramps up for the Ford Mustang Mach-E and VW ID.4 .

In the latter half of the year, we should also see a few electric pickups from Lordstown Motors and the first deliveries of the BMW iX and the GMC Hummer EV.  I don’t expect the Tesla Cybertruck to appear until the very end of 2021, if not 2022.

In the U.S., I’ll be watching for policy changes at the federal level that might encourage more consumers to make the switch to electric vehicles. According to Politico, there is $40 billion in unused Energy Department loan authority that was awarded under the 2009 stimulus. These funds could become central piece of the incoming Biden Administration’s climate and infrastructure plan. While those loans will likely go towards energy storage and other infrastructure, it’s worth noting that former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm will be heading up the DOE. Granholm was directly involved in the Obama Administration’s bailout of the U.S. auto industry during the Great Recession.

Electric bikes, mopeds, scooters and even skateboards will continue to grow in 2021 as consumers look for means of getting around town without buying a car or using personal transit.

That doesn’t mean every ebike or scooter company will prosper. Some shared electric scooter companies have struggled in 2020 or shut down altogether. Others are switching to subscription -based models. Expect the tinkering to continue.

RedHat is acquiring container security company StackRox

By Ron Miller

RedHat today announced that it’s acquiring container security startup StackRox . The companies did not share the purchase price.

RedHat, which is perhaps best known for its enterprise Linux products has been making the shift to the cloud in recent years. IBM purchased the company in 2018 for a hefty $34 billion and has been leveraging that acquisition as part of a shift to a hybrid cloud strategy under CEO Arvind Krishna.

The acquisition fits nicely with RedHat OpenShift, its container platform, but the company says it will continue to support StackRox usage on other platforms including AWS, Azure and Google Cloud Platform. This approach is consistent with IBM’s strategy of supporting multi-cloud, hybrid environments.

In fact, Red Hat president and CEO Paul Cormier sees the two companies working together well. “Red Hat adds StackRox’s Kubernetes-native capabilities to OpenShift’s layered security approach, furthering our mission to bring product-ready open innovation to every organization across the open hybrid cloud across IT footprints,” he said in a statement.

CEO Kamal Shah, writing in a company blog post announcing the acquisition, explained that the company made a bet a couple of years ago on Kubernetes and it has paid off. “Over two and half years ago, we made a strategic decision to focus exclusively on Kubernetes and pivoted our entire product to be Kubernetes-native. While this seems obvious today; it wasn’t so then. Fast forward to 2020 and Kubernetes has emerged as the de facto operating system for cloud-native applications and hybrid cloud environments,” Shah wrote.

Shah sees the purchase as a way to expand the company and the road map more quickly using the resources of Red Hat (and IBM), a typical argument from CEOs of smaller acquired companies. But the trick is always finding a way to stay relevant inside such a large organization.

StackRox’s acquisition is part of some consolidation we have been seeing in the Kubernetes space in general and the security space more specifically. That includes Palo Alto Networks acquiring competitor TwistLock for $410 million in 2019. Another competitor, Aqua Security, which has raised $130 million, remains independent.

StackRox was founded in 2014 and raised over $65 million, according to Crunchbase data. Investors included Menlo Ventures, Redpoint and Sequoia Capital. The deal is expected to close this quarter subject to normal regulatory scrutiny.

Teamflow lands $3.9 million for a productive virtual HQ platform

By Natasha Mascarenhas

After a year of video calls and Slack messages, the definition of workplace is set to shift again. In a post-pandemic world, some will return to the office, many will remain remote and regardless of where an employee sits, Florent Crivello, the founder of Teamflow, has raised millions for what he views as a trillion-dollar idea to make their work day easier.

Teamflow, formerly Huddle, is creating a virtual headquarters to help distributed teams collaborate and communicate from a singular platform. The startup, which has been in private beta for six months, today announced it has raised $3.9 million in a seed financing round led by Menlo Ventures.

It’s good timing, as Crivello notes, as the competition is “red hot.” There are dozens of other virtual HQ platforms, some venture-backed and some bootstrapped, similarly mixing gamification and productivity into a service.

“I think every engineer and every tech person in the Valley has been having a very first-hand experience of this problem over the last year,” Crivello said.

Crivello, who previously led teams at Uber, sees Teamflow’s focus on virtual work, instead of virtual socializing, as its competitive advantage against other platforms. Competitors include Branch, which has a more social feel, and Hopin, a platform last valued at $2 billion, which produces digital conferences.

“We’re not Pokémon kind of fun,” he said. “We’re still very work-focused.”

A quick tour through Teamflow illustrates its emphasis on productivity over aesthetic. When you enter the virtual space, you’re greeted with a sidebar of options ranging from white boards, countdown timers, and soon integrations with Notion and Google Docs.

Crivello views Teamflow as being a response to the very “app-centric” world of remote work right now. The platform can be the collaboration layer that brings all the apps out of unorganized tab hell and into one place.

Teamflow uses spatial technology to give employees the feel of spontaneity. If you walk — or toggle — past a co-worker, you’ll be able to join in conversation. The farther you move, the less you hear. There are also breakout rooms where people can enter to have focused, invite-only meetings.

The product has shown some signs of growth since launching its beta. There is 30% growth in hours on the platform week over week, bringing a total of over 50,000 hours of user testing into the platform experience. There are 1,000 users on the waitlist.

“We believe that we are this thing you open in the morning and leave open all day,” Crivello said.

While Teamflow is focusing heavily on productivity, user design does matter when you’re trying to convince consumers to spend an entire work day on your app. Teamflow will need to make more investments in its experience to give it the feel and culture of a virtual HQ, versus another place for employees to spend screen time. It’s why some competitors are opting for a gamified approach.

Any virtual HQ company will have to convince users to exist passively on its platform for a meaningful amount of time, every single day.

If all goes well, Teamflow is looking to be a remote work solution that can replace Slack and Zoom. Crivello says that he has “several customers” who have stopped using both apps altogether, and Teamflow is currently building an internal chat feature that rivals Slack.

The cost for a subscription per starts at $15 a month, according to the most recent pricing information. 

“There’s so much more to remote work collaboration than communication,” Crivello said. Slack and Zoom’s primary features are connecting employees to each other to talk; while he hopes that Teamflow allows employees to talk and work in one place.

Undoubtedly, the opportunity for a platform that can get widespread adoption around distributed teams is grandiose. Pandemic or not, Teamflow thinks that the world has experienced a tipping point that will bring distributed work mainstream. Founders will be looking for solutions to keep their teams happy and productivity high.

“Now, if you don’t offer remote work, you’re at a competitive disadvantage [as a company],” Crivello said.

The beauty of early-stage startups is that long-term success doesn’t need to be obvious from the get go. Yet, when it comes to Teamflow, or any virtual HQ platform, the validation will be simple to prove (or disprove) the moment that post-pandemic consumer habits materialize.

 

Chronosphere nabs $43M Series B to expand cloud native monitoring tool

By Ron Miller

Chronosphere, the scalable cloud native monitoring tool launched in 2019 by two former Uber engineers, announced a $43.4 million Series B today. The company also announced that their service was generally available starting today.

Greylock, Lux Capital and venture capitalist Lee Fixel, all of whom participated in the startup’s $11 million Series A in 2019, led the round with participation from new investor General Atlantic. The company has raised $54.4 million.

The two founders, CEO Martin Mao and CTO Rob Skillington, created the open source M3 monitoring project while they were working at Uber, and left in 2019 to launch Chronosphere, a startup based on that project. As Mao told me at the time of the A round, the company wanted to simplify the management of running the open source project:

“M3 itself is a fairly complex piece of technology to run. It is solving a fairly complex problem at large scale, and running it actually requires a decent amount of investment to run at large scale, so the first thing we’re doing is taking care of that management,” Mao said.

He said that the company spent most of last year iterating the product and working with beta customers, adding that they certainly benefited from building the commercial service on top of the open source project.

“I think we’re lucky that we have the foundation already from the open source project, but we really wanted to focus a lot on building a product on top of that technology and really have this product be differentiated, so that was most of the focus of 2020 for us,” he said.

Mao points out that he and Skillington weren’t looking for this new round of funding as they still had money left from the A round, but the company’s previous investors approached them and they decided to strike to add additional money to the balance sheet, which would help grow the company, attract employees and help reassure customers they had plenty of capital to continue building the product and the company.

As the company has developed over the last year, it has been adding employees at a rapid clip, growing from 13 at the time of the A round in 2019 to 50 today with plans to double that by the end of next year. Mao says the founders have been thinking about how to build a diverse company from its early days.

“So […] beginning last year we were making sure we were hiring the right leaders, and the right recruiting team who also care about diversity, then following that we made company-wide goals and targets for both gender and ethnic diversity, and then [we have been] holding ourselves accountable on these particular goals and tracking against them,” Mao said.

The company has been spread out from the beginning, even before COVID, with offices in Seattle, New York and Lithuania, and that has helped in terms of having a broader base to recruit from. Mao wants to remain mostly remote whenever it’s possible to return to the office, but maintain hubs on each coast where employees can meet and see each other in person.

With the product generally available today, the company will look to expand its customer base, and with the open source project to drive interest, they have a proven way to attract new customers to the commercial product.

Color raises $167 million funding at $1.5 billion valuation to expand ‘last mile’ of US health infrastructure

By Darrell Etherington

Healthcare startup Color has raised a sizable $167 million in Series D funding round, at a valuation of $1.5 billion post-money, the company announced today. This brings the total raised by Color to $278 million, with its latest large round intended to help it build on a record year of growth in 2020 with even more expansion to help put in place key health infrastructure systems across the U.S. — including those related to the “last mile” delivery of COVID-19 vaccines.

This latest investment into Color was led by General Catalyst, and by funds invested by T. Rowe Price, along with participation from Viking Global investors as well as others. Alongside the funding, the company is also bringing on a number of key senior executives, including Claire Vo (formerly of Optimizely) as chief product officer, Emily Reuter (formerly of Uber, where she played a key role in its IPO process) as VP of Strategy and Operations, and Ashley Chandler (formerly of Stripe) as VP of Marketing.

“I think with the [COVID-19] crisis, it’s really shone the light on that lack of infrastructure. We saw it multiple times, with lab testing, with antigen testing and now with vaccines,” Color CEO and co-founder Othman Laraki told me in an interview. “The model that we’ve been developing, that’s been working really well and we feel like this is the opportunity to really scale it in a very major way. I think literally what’s happening is the building of the public health infrastructure for the country that’s starting off from a technology-first model, as opposed to, what ends up happening in a lot of industries, which is you start off taking your existing logistics and assets, and add technology to them.”

Color’s 2020 was a record year for the company, thanks in part to partnerships like the one it formed with San Francisco to establish testing for healthcare workers and residents. Laraki told me they did about five-fold their prior year’s business, and while the company is already set up to grow on its own sustainably based on the revenue it pulls in from customers, its ambitions and plans for 2021 and beyond made this the right time to help it accelerate further with the addition of more capital.

Laraki described Color’s approach as one that is both cost-efficient for the company, and also significant cost-saving for the healthcare providers it works with. He likens their approach to the shift that happened in retail with the move to online sales — and the contribution of one industry heavyweight in particular.

“At some point, you build Amazon — a technology-first stack that’s optimized around access and scale,” Laraki said. “I think that’s literally what we’re seeing now with healthcare. What’s kind of getting catalyzed right now is we’ve been realizing it applies to the COVID crisis, but also, we started actually working on that for prevention and I think actually it’s going to be applying to a huge surface area in healthcare; basically all the aspects of health that are not acute care where you don’t need to show up in hospital.”

Ultimately, Color’s approach is to rethink healthcare delivery in order to “make it accessible at the edge directly in people’s lives,” with “low transaction costs,” in a way that’s “scalable, [and] doesn’t use a lot of clinical resourcing,” Laraki says. He notes that this is actually very possible once you reasses the problem without relying on a lot of accepted knowledge about the way things are done today, which result in a “heavy stack” versus what you actually need to deliver the desired outcomes.

Laraki doesn’t think the problem is easy to solve — on the contrary, he acknowledges that 2021 is likely to be even more difficult and challenging than 2020 in many ways for the healthcare industry, and we’ve already begun to see evidence of that in the many challenges already faced by vaccine distribution and delivery in its initial rollout. But he’s optimistic about Color’s ability to help address those challenges, and to build out a “last mile” delivery system for crucial care that expands accessibility, while also making sure things are done right.

“When you take a step back, doing COVID testing or COVID vaccinations … those are not complex procedures at all — they’re extremely simple procedures,” he said. “What’s hard is doing them massive scale and with a very low transaction cost to the individual and to the system. And that’s a very different tooling.”

The Station: Zoox’s six-year ride, Aurora makes its Uber ATG employee picks and NHTSA takes a new position on AVs

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 new 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 asked you last week to share your picks for the biggest stories of the year. While there was a mix, two startup-focused themes emerged: COVID-19 and the pressure it put on companies, as well as the unexpected flurry of deals that occurred despite the pandemic.

SPACs, Tesla’s skyrocketing share price, Waymo’s driverless ride-hailing service opening up to the public in the Phoenix area, Uber’s 2020 evolution (which I addressed last weekend) and Amazon’s acquisition of Zoox also made the list.

Speaking of Zoox, I posted an article last week of my interview with Jesse Levinson, the co-founder and CTO of Zoox. Access to the article requires an EC subscription, so I’ll offer a nugget here that I thought was new and interesting.

I asked Levinson what his hope was at the federal level? Specifically, if he sees real guidelines being formalized? Here’s the exchange.

LEVINSON: Well, we’re actually in good shape from a federal perspective. We have designed our vehicle to comply with the FMVSS (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards) and we are crash testing our vehicle to all of those standards. We’ve actually attempted most of them and passed every one that we’ve attempted, so you know, really we’re not actually blocked on the federal level.

We’ll see what happens with the new administration and what the future of regulations brings but at this point we’re actually good to go.

YOURS TRULY: Then you don’t need an exemption (federally)? You don’t have a steering wheel.

LEVINSON: Yeah, we’ve designed our vehicle to be compliant with the FMVSS. And so we were not looking for an exemption approach.

ME AGAIN: Is it because you’re going to be under 25 miles an hour? My understanding was that if you didn’t have a steering wheel that the vehicle wouldn’t comply. So how does that work?

LEVINSON: I would just say that’s not our interpretation of the standards.

Readers: read the last item in the newsletter for the punch line. 

Email me anytime at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Deal of the week

money the station

The end of 2020 has produced a string of acquisitions, mergers and fundraising rounds that seemed unlikely this spring as the COVID-19 pandemic spread volatility and uncertainty.

One of the bright spots in 2020 was delivery. Startups focused on delivery — whether it is via trucking, autonomous bots or airborne devices like drones — managed to secure new funding while others struggled.

That doesn’t mean the pandemic didn’t delay or create obstacles for delivery startups. Take Indian food delivery company Zomato, for example.

The 12-year-old company did raise $660 million in a Series J round this month. Tiger Global, Kora, Luxor, Fidelity (FMR), D1 Capital, Baillie Gifford, Mirae and Steadview participated in the round. Zomato now has post-money valuation of $3.9 billion.

However, Zomato originally anticipated to close the round 11 months ago. Several obstacles, including the current pandemic, delayed the fundraise effort. Ant Financial, which had originally committed to invest $150 million in this round, only delivered a third of it.

More money appears to be headed toward Zomato, which is preparing to go public in 2021. Zomato co-founder and CEO Deepinder Goyal said the company is also in the process of closing a $140 million secondary transaction.

Zomato, which acquired Uber’s Indian-based food delivery business early this year, has good reason to stack its coffers. The company faces a fight for market share with rival Swiggy and a new emerging threat of Amazon.

Other deals that got my attention this week …

AutoLeap, a six-month-old, Toronto-based startup, revealed that it raised $5 million in seed funding in September, led by Threshold Ventures. The round also included individual investors Shift co-founder George Arison, former General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner and former senior Bridgestone exec Ned Aguilar.

Bolt, the Estonian startup that’s building an on-demand network to move food and people around in cars, on scooters and on bikes, raised €150 million ($182 million at current rates) in an equity round. CEO and co-founder Markus Villig has growth on the brain. He told TechCrunch that Bolt, which already covers 200 cities in 40 countries, will use the new funds to expand geographically with an aim to become the biggest provider of electric scooters in Europe.

Boom Supersonic raised $50 million in new funding led by WRVI Capital for a post-money valuation of more than $1 billion, Bloomberg reported.

Cargo.one, the air cargo booking platform, raised $42 million in a Series B funding round that was led by Bessemer Venture Partners. Existing investors Creandum, Index Ventures, Next47 and Point Nine also participated in the round. The company raised $18 million in a Series A round earlier this year.

CarGurus, the online automotive marketplace, agreed to acquire a 51% interest in Plano, Texas-based CarOffer at an enterprise valuation of $275 million. Under the deal, CarGurus has the option to buy the remaining equity interest in the company over the next three years. CarOffer is an automated instant vehicle trade platform that offers an alternative to the traditional wholesale auction model.

GoFor Industries, a Canadian delivery company, raised CA$20 million in a Series A round that will be used to drive its expansion into the United States, Freightwaves reported.

Motorq, the connected car API company, raised $7 million in a Series A round of funding led by Story Ventures with participation from existing investors FM Capital and Monta Vista Capital. A new strategic investor, Avanta Ventures, the investment arm of CSAA, also joined the round.

Motorq developed a cloud-based system that captures and then monitors embedded data from a vehicle’s onboard computers and then runs analytics and machine learning models on the data. Motorq says the system can help put those analytics into context, which can be combined with other information, and then sent to customers via application programming interfaces (APIs) and other tools. Data points include vehicle location, charge/fuel use, driver behavior, safety warnings, maintenance alerts and certain remote commands.

Volcon ePowersports raised $2.5 million in public funding through the WeFunder platform. The company said it has raised more than $4.5 million since September through a seed round of funding and through WeFunder. The capital will be used to continue the build-out of Volcon’s production facilities and assembly lines. For the unfamiliar, Volcon is aiming to build and start deliveries of an all-electric off-road motorcycle called the Grunt in Spring 2021.

Vroom, the online used-car company, has agreed to acquire Vast Holdings Inc., which includes Austin-based vehicle listings platform CarStory, for $120 million, reported Automotive News.

Uber ATG-Aurora integration

Autonomous vehicle company Aurora Innovation isn’t wasting any time integrating with Uber Advanced Technologies Group. As you might recall, just a week or so ago, Aurora announced that it was acquiring Uber’s self-driving subsidiary in a complex deal that will give the combined company a valuation of $10 billion.

Aurora CEO Chris Urmson sent offers via email Thursday to more than 75% of employees at Uber ATG, according to a source familiar with the post-acquisition integration process. That’s more than 850 employees. If every employee accepts, Aurora will more than double in size overnight.

Uber ATG Toronto, which employs about 50 people where the subsidiary conducted its research and development work, did not make the cut, according to a source. Nor has Uber ATG’s chief scientist Raquel Urtasun, who led the Uber ATG R&D team. Urtasun, who is considered a leading expert in machine perception for self-driving cars, is also a University of Toronto professor and the Canada Research Chair in Machine Learning and Computer Vision as well as the co-founder of the Vector Institute for AI.

News of the Toronto closure prompted a few venture capitalists and founders to share their surprise that Aurora wouldn’t have pinpointed Urtasun and the rest of the R&D as some of the most desirable candidates to join the newly combined company. We don’t know if they did. Here’s what I can predict. If the texts and emails I received are any indication, Urtasun is already fielding offers from several other AV companies.

One more policy thing

the station autonomous vehicles1

A curious item popped up this week that certainly must have captured the attention of policy folks at any autonomous vehicle company planning to operate in the United States.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration posted a notice this week that offers a clarification to AV policy. Before I dig in, let me provide a brief overview of the law.

Today, a motor vehicle must comply with all federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS), which set a minimum threshold of performance that a vehicle must meet. But once you determine that the “driver” can be a system of hardware and software (a simplification, I know) and not a human, it raises questions about whether a vehicle really needs the physical steering wheel and other traditional controls a robot simply has no use for.

This notice reverses prior statements that NHTSA made, most notably a letter of interpretation that the agency sent in 2016 to Chris Urmson, who at the time was heading up Google’s self-driving project.

The 2016 interpretation created a Catch-22 scenario for AV companies that wanted to use vehicles with novel designs like those that lacked a steering wheel or pedals. NHTSA said, at the time, that manufacturers had to certify that a motor vehicle complied with requirements of all applicable FMVSS and to design the vehicle in such a way that NHTSA would be able to conduct each element of each test procedure specified within each applicable regulation. But that was impossible because certain test conditions or procedures could not be conducted on the vehicle as specified in the FMVSS.

The only real path forward was for a company to ask for exemptions.

This notice not only acknowledges that the 2016 interpretation was too restrictive, it seems to have removed a major obstacle that will allow robotaxis to get on the road sooner.

And now suddenly, Levinson’s comments (yeah way back up at the top of this newsletter) make more sense. Here’s a link to the notice.

Uber sells air taxi business Elevate to Joby Aviation, shedding its last moonshot

By Kirsten Korosec

Uber has offloaded its air taxi enterprise Elevate to Joby Aviation, the last of several moonshots to be sold by the ride-hailing company in a pursuit to stick to its core business and reach profitability.

The transaction announced Tuesday is part of a complex deal that includes Uber investing $75 million into Joby and an expanded partnership between the two companies. Last year, Uber and Joby, which is developing an all-electric, vertical take-off and landing passenger aircraft, signed on as a vehicle partner for Uber’s Elevate initiative. Joby was the first partner to commit to deploying air taxi services by 2023.

The $75 million investment comes in addition to a previously undisclosed $50 million investment made as part of Joby’s Series C financing round in January 2020, Uber said. To date, Joby Aviation has raised $820 million. Uber has invested a total of $125 million into the startup.

Under the deal, which is expected to close in early 2021, the two parent companies have agreed to integrate their respective services into each other’s apps.

“Advanced air mobility has the potential to be exponentially positive for the environment and future generations,” Uber CEO said Dara Khosrowshahi said in a statement. “This deal allows us to deepen our partnership with Joby, the clear leader in this field, to accelerate the path to market for these technologies.”

While Joby is considered one of the leaders, Elevate did play a role in shaping the nascent industry, including establishing some of the benchmarks used by competitors.

“The team at Uber Elevate has not only played an important role in our industry, they have also developed a remarkable set of software tools that build on more than a decade of experience enabling on-demand mobility,” Joby Aviation CEO JoeBen Bevirt said in a statement.”These tools and new team members will be invaluable to us as we accelerate our plans for commercial launch.”

One year ago, Uber’s business model could be categorized as an “all of the above approach,” a strategy to generate revenue from all forms of transportation, including ride-hailing, micromobility, logistics and package and food delivery. The COVID-19 pandemic and Khosrowshahi’s focus on profitability prompted the company to dump its moonshots and double down on delivery with its acquisition of Postmates.

Today, Uber is a company focused on ride-hailing and delivery while keeping its hand in micromobility, logistics and autonomous vehicles through a series of deals struck in 2020.

The Joby-Elevate terms are similar to two other Uber deals this year. In spring, Uber led a $170 million funding round in micromobility startup Lime. As part of the deal, Lime acquired Uber’s micromobility subsidiary Jump. The majority of Jump’s 400 employees were laid off. Earlier this week, autonomous vehicle startup Aurora Innovation reached an agreement with Uber to buy the ride-hailing firm’s self-driving unit in a complex deal that will value the combined company at $10 billion.

Just like the Uber’s deals with Lime and now Joby, Aurora isn’t paying cash for Uber ATG, a company that was last valued at $7.25 billion. Instead, Uber is handing over its equity in ATG and investing $400 million into Aurora, which will give it a 26% stake in the combined company, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Uber said October that it sold off a $500 million stake in its Uber Freight business to an investor group led by New York-based investment firm Greenbriar Equity Group. The deal valued the unit at $3.3 billion on a post-money basis. Uber has maintained its majority stake in Uber Freight unlike the Jump, Elevate and ATG deals.

UPDATE: Parrot Software has $2.1 million to grow its restaurant point-of-sale and management service in Mexico

By Jonathan Shieber

The two founders of Parrot Software, Roberto Cebrián and David Villarreal, first met in high school in Monterrey, Mexico. In the eleven years since , both have pursued successful careers in the tech industry and became family (they’re brothers-in-law).

Now, they’re starting a new business together leveraging Cebrián’s experience running a point-of-sale company and Villarreal’s time working first at Uber and then at the high-growth, scooter and bike rental startup, Grin.

Cebrían’s experience founding the point-of-sale company S3 Software laid the foundation for Parrot Software, and its point of sale service to manage restaurant operations. 

Roberto has been in the industry for the past six or seven years,” said Villarreal. “And he was telling me that no one has been serving [restaurants] properly… Roberto pitched me the idea and I got super involved and decided to start the company.”

Parrot Software co-founders Roberto Cebrían and David Villarreal. Image Credit: Parrot Software

Like Toast in the U.S., Parrot  manages payments including online and payments and real-time ordering, along with integrations into services that can manage the back-end operations of a restaurant too, according to Villarreal. Those services include things like delivery software, accounting and loyalty systems.  

The company is already live in over 500 restaurants in Mexico and is used by chains including Cinnabon, Dairy Queen, Grupo Costeño, and Grupo Pangea.

Based in Monterrey, Mexico, the company has managed to attract a slew of high profile North American investors including Joe Montana’s Liquid2 Ventures, Foundation Capital, Superhuman angel fund, Toby Spinoza, the vice president of DoorDash, and Ed Baker, a product lead at Uber. Together they’ve poured $2.1 million into the young company.

Since its launch, Parrot has managed to land contracts in 10 cities, with the largest presence in Northeastern Mexico, around Monterrey, said Villarreal.

The market for restaurant management software is large and growing. It’s a big category that’s expected to reach $6.94 billion in sales worldwide by 2025, according to a reporter from Grand View Research.

Investors in the U.S. market certainly believe in the potential opportunity for a business like Toast. That company has raised nearly $1 billion in funding from firms like Bessemer Venture Partners, the private equity firm TPG, and Tiger Global Management.

Uber sells self-driving unit Uber ATG in deal that will push Aurora’s valuation to $10B

By Kirsten Korosec

Aurora Innovation, the autonomous vehicle startup backed by Sequoia Capital and Amazon, has reached an agreement with Uber to buy the ride-hailing firm’s self-driving unit in a complex deal that will value the combined company at $10 billion.

Aurora is not paying cash for Uber ATG, a company that was valued at $7.25 billion following a $1 billion investment last year from Toyota, DENSO and SoftBank’s Vision Fund. Instead, Uber is handing over its equity in ATG and investing $400 million into Aurora, which will give it a 26% stake in the combined company, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. (As a refresher, Uber held an 86.2% stake (on a fully diluted basis) in Uber ATG, according to filings with the SEC. Uber ATG’s investors held a combined stake of 13.8% in the company.) Shareholders in Uber ATG will now become minority shareholders of Aurora.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi will take a board seat in the newly expanded Aurora.

Aurora, which was founded in 2017, is focused on building the full self-driving stack, the underlying technology that will allow vehicles to navigate highways and city streets without a human driver behind the wheel. Aurora has attracted attention and investment from high-profile venture firms, management firms and corporations such as Greylock Partners, Sequoia Capital,  Amazon and T. Rowe Price, in part because of its founders Sterling Anderson, Drew Bagnell and Chris Urmson, all of whom are veterans of the autonomous vehicle industry.

Urmson led the former Google self-driving project before it spun out to become the Alphabet business Waymo. Anderson is best known for leading the development and launch of the Tesla Model X and the automaker’s Autopilot program. Bagnell, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon, helped launch Uber’s efforts in autonomy, ultimately heading the autonomy and perception team at the Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh.

Aurora plans to bring autonomous trucks to market first. However, Urmson has maintained that the company is still pursuing other applications of its self-driving stack such as robotaxis. The deal with Uber ATG provides Aurora with talent and operational facilities. But it delivers on two other important areas: relationships with Uber ATG investors, specifically Toyota, as well as a partnership with Uber that will give it access to its vast ride-hailing platform.

“The way we want to build this company has been with this mindset of let’s build it to scale — let’s create an environment where people can do their best work,” Urmson said in an interview Monday. “And then let’s go look for great teams and bring them in. It’s one way to get a combination of talent and technology, and in this case, also relationships.”

The announcement, which confirms TechCrunch’s reporting in November, marks the beginning of what promises to be a huge undertaking to merge Uber ATG, a 1,200-person business unit with operations in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto with its smaller competitor.

It’s not clear if all Uber ATG employees will be folded into Aurora, which has 600-person workforce and operations in San Francisco Bay Area, Pittsburgh, Texas and Bozeman, Montana. At least one executive — Uber ATG CEO Eric Meyhofer — will not be joining the company.

This is not Aurora’s first acquisition, although it is certainly its largest and most complex. In 2019, Aurora acquired Blackmore, a Bozeman, Montana-based lidar company, and simulation startup 7D Labs.

The cloud can’t solve all your problems

By Walter Thompson
Jon Shanks Contributor
Jon Shanks is CEO and co-founder of cloud-native delivery platform Appvia.

The way a team functions and communicates dictates the operational efficiency of a startup and sets the scene for its culture. It’s way more important than what social events and perks are offered, so it’s the responsibility of a founder and/or CEO to provide their team with a technology approach that will empower them to achieve and succeed — now and in the future.

With that in mind, moving to the cloud might seem like a no-brainer because of its huge benefits around flexibility, accessibility and the potential to rapidly scale, while keeping budgets in check.

But there’s an important consideration here: Cloud providers won’t magically give you efficient teams.

Designing a startup for scale means investing in the right technology today to underpin growth for tomorrow and beyond.

It will get you going in the right direction, but you need to think even farther ahead. Designing a startup for scale means investing in the right technology today to underpin growth for tomorrow and beyond. Let’s look at how you approach and manage your cloud infrastructure will impact the effectiveness of your teams and your ability to scale.

Hindsight is 20/20

Adopting cloud is easy, but adopting it properly with best practices and in a secure way? Not so much. You might think that when you move to cloud, the cloud providers will give you everything you need to succeed. But even though they’re there to provide a wide breadth of services, these services won’t necessarily have the depth that you will need to run efficiently and effectively.

Yes, your cloud infrastructure is working now, but think beyond the first prototype or alpha and toward production. Considering where you want to get to, and not just where you are, will help you avoid costly mistakes. You definitely don’t want to struggle through redefining processes and ways of working when you’re also managing time sensitivities and multiple teams.

If you don’t think ahead, you’ll have to put all new processes in. It will take a whole lot longer, cost more money and cause a lot more disruption to teams than if you do it earlier.

For any founder, making strategic technology decisions right now should be a primary concern. It feels more natural to put off those decisions until you come face to face with the problem, but you’ll just end up needing to redo everything as you scale and cause your teams a world of hurt. If you don’t give this problem attention at the beginning, you’re just scaling the problems with the team. Flaws are then embedded within your infrastructure, and they’ll continue to scale with the teams. When these things are rushed, corners are cut and you will end up spending even more time and money on your infrastructure.

Build effective teams and reduce bottlenecks

When you’re making strategic decisions on how to approach your technology stack and cloud infrastructure, the biggest consideration should be what makes an effective team. Given that, keep these things top of mind:

  • Speed of delivery: Having developers able to self-serve cloud infrastructure with best practices built-in will enable speed. Development tools that factor in visibility and communication integrations for teams will give transparency on how they are iterating, problems, bugs or integration failures.
  • Speed of testing: This is all about ensuring fast feedback loops as your team works on critical new iterations and features. Developers should be able to test as much as possible locally and through continuous integration systems before they are ready for code review.
  • Troubleshooting problems: Good logging, monitoring and observability services, gives teams awareness of issues and the ability to resolve problems quickly or reproduce customer complaints in order to develop fixes.

AWS brings ECS, EKS services to the data center, open sources EKS

By Ron Miller

Today at AWS re:Invent, Andy Jassy talked a lot about how companies are making a big push to the cloud, but today’s container-focussed announcements gave a big nod to the data center as the company announced ECS Anywhere and EKS Anywhere, both designed to let you run these services on-premises, as well as in the cloud.

These two services, ECS for generalized container orchestration and EKS for that’s focused on Kubernetes will let customers use these popular AWS services on premises. Jassy said that some customers still want the same tools they use in the cloud on prem and this is designed to give it to them.

Speaking of ECS he said,  “I still have a lot of my containers that I need to run on premises as I’m making this transition to the cloud, and [these] people really want it to have the same management and deployment mechanisms that they have in AWS also on premises and customers have asked us to work on this. And so I’m excited to announce two new things to you. The first is the launch, or the announcement of Amazon ECS anywhere, which lets you run ECS and your own data center,” he told the re:Invent audience.

Image Credits: AWS

He said it gives you the same AWS API’s and cluster configuration management pieces. This will work the same for EKS, allowing this single management methodology regardless of where you are using the service.

While it was at it, the company also announced it was open sourcing EKS, its own managed Kubernetes service. The idea behind these moves is to give customers as much flexibility as possible, and recognizing what Microsoft, IBM and Google have been saying, that we live in a multi-cloud and hybrid world and people aren’t moving everything to the cloud right away.

In fact, in his opening Jassy stated that right now in 2020, just 4% of worldwide IT spend is on the cloud. That means there’s money to be made selling services on premises, and that’s what these services will do.

Uber officially completes Postmates acquisition

By Darrell Etherington

Uber today announced the official completion of its Postmates acquisition deal, which it announced originally back in July. The all-stock deal, valued at around $2.65 billion at the time of its disclosure, sees Postmates join Uber, while continuing to operate as a separate service with its own branding and front-end – while some backend operations, including a shared pool of drivers, will merge.

Uber detailed some of its further thinking around the newly combined companies and what that will mean for the businesses they work with in a new blog post. The company posited the move as of benefit to the merchant population they work with, and alongside the official closure announced a new initiative to encourage and gather customer feedback on the merchant side.

They’re calling it a “regional listening exercise” to be run beginning next year, wherein they’ll work with local restaurant associations and chambers of commerce to hear concerns from local business owners in their own communities. This sounds similar in design to Uber’s prior efforts to focus on driver feedback from a couple of years ago in order to improve the way it works with that side of its double-sided marketplace.

Focusing on the needs of its merchant population is doubly important given the current global pandemic, which has seen Uber Eats emerge as even more of a key infrastructure component in the food service and grocery industries as people seek more delivery options in order to better comply with stay-at-home orders and other public safety recommendations.

DoorDash aims to add $11 billion to its valuation during public offering

By Alex Wilhelm

This morning, DoorDash filed a new S-1 document, this time updating the market about the price it expects to command during its public offering. The food-delivery giant gave a range of $75 to $85 per share, which would revalue the company sharply higher than its final private price, set during a June Series H that valued DoorDash at $16 billion.

The company intends to sell 33 million shares, raising between $2.475 billion and $2.805 billion in the process. Notably, there are no shares set aside for its underwriting banks to buy at its IPO price.


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After the public offering, DoorDash expects to have 317,656,521 shares outstanding across various classes, giving it a valuation of between $23.8 billion and $27 billion at the two extremes of its IPO range, not counting shares that have not yet vested or are set aside for future employee compensation. CNBC calculates that the company could be worth up to $30 billion on a fully-diluted basis.

What matters more than the raw dollar amounts, however, is what we can learn from them. Let’s get into the guts of the valuation range and find out if it’s bullish or if we should anticipate DoorDash to raise its range before it goes public.

Valuations, ranges

The new DoorDash S-1/A filing, it doesn’t appear to contain new financial information, so we can keep our prior notes on the company’s health and performance in mind. Recall that we were generally impressed by DoorDash’s growth and its improving profitability.

Other on-demand food services are doing well: HungryPanda just raised $70 million, and on the back of Uber Eats’ growth — and optimism that its ride-hailing business will return with the market-readiness of strong COVID-19 vaccines — shares of Uber are at all-time highs.

So you can taste the optimism that DoorDash is riding as it looks to list. Given our take, you would be forgiven for presuming that DoorDash is targeting an aggressive price.

Is it?

India sets rules for commissions, surge pricing for Uber and Ola

By Manish Singh

Ride-hailing firms such as Ola and Uber can only draw a fee of up to 20% on ride fares in India, New Delhi said in guidelines on Friday, a new setback for the SoftBank-backed firms already struggling to improve their finances in the key overseas market.

The guidelines, which for the first time bring modern-age app-based ride-hailing firms under a regulatory framework in the country, also put a cap on the so-called surge pricing, the fare Uber and Ola charge during hours when their services see peak demands.

According to the guidelines, Ola and Uber — and any other app-operated, ride-hailing firm — can charge a maximum of 1.5 times of the base fare. They can, however, choose to offer their services at 50% of the base fare as well. The rules also state that drivers will not be permitted to work for more than 12 hours in a day, and that the companies need to provide them insurance cover.

Uber and Ola have not previously publicly shared precisely how much they charge their drivers for each ride, but industry estimates show that a driver partner with either of these firms makes up to 74% of the ride fare, after paying taxes. The new guidelines say drivers should get to keep at least 80% of fares.

The cap on the ride fare and implied insurance costs will raise operating costs in India for Uber and Ola, both of which have eliminated jobs in recent months amid the pandemic to trim costs. The South Asian nation, which has attracted many giant international firms in recent years as they look for their next growth market, in the meantime has entered an unprecedented recession.

But not everything about the guidelines will hurt Uber and Ola, both of which had no comment to share on Friday. The rules will enable the companies to offer pooling (shared car) services on private cars, though there is a daily limit of four intra-city rides on such cars, and two weekly inter-city rides.

Ujjwal Chaudhry, an associate partner at Bangalore-based marketing research consulting firm Redseer, said the guidelines by the government will have a mixed impact.

“While it is positive in terms of formalizing the sector as well as increasing the consumer trust on aggregators through improved safety regulations. But, overall the impact of these guidelines on the ecosystem growth are negative as capping surge and platform fee will ultimately lead to reduced earnings for 5 Lac (500,000) drivers (currently on these platforms) and will also lead to increased prices and higher wait times for the 6-8 crore (60 to 80 million) consumers who use it for their mobility and commute needs,” he said in a statement.

The rules also address a range of other factors surrounding a ride. For instance, under no circumstance can the cancellation fee imposed on a rider or driver be more than 10% of the total fare, and the fee cannot exceed 100 Indian rupees, or $1.35. Also, female passengers looking for a pooled service will have the option to share the cab with only female passengers, the rules say. Cab aggregators are also required to establish a control room with round-the-clock operations.

Ola and Uber dominate the app-based ride-hailing market in India. Both the companies claim to lead the market, though SoftBank, a common investor, said recently that Ola had a slight lead over Uber in India.

Cast.ai nabs $7.7M seed to remove barriers between public clouds

By Ron Miller

When you launch an application in the public cloud, you usually put everything on one provider, but what if you could choose the components based on cost and technology and have your database one place and your storage another?

That’s what Cast.ai says that it can provide, and today it announced a healthy $7.7 million seed round from TA Ventures, DNX, Florida Funders and other unnamed angels to keep building on that idea. The round closed in June.

Company CEO and co-founder Yuri Frayman says that they started the company with the idea that developers should be able to get the best of each of the public clouds without being locked in. They do this by creating Kubernetes clusters that are able to span multiple clouds.

“Cast does not require you to do anything except for launching your application. You don’t need to know  […] what cloud you are using [at any given time]. You don’t need to know anything except to identify the application, identify which [public] cloud providers you would like to use, the percentage of each [cloud provider’s] use and launch the application,” Frayman explained.

This means that you could use Amazon’s RDS database and Google’s ML engine, and the solution decides how to make that work based on your requirements and price. You set the policies when you are ready to launch and Cast will take care of distributing it for you in the location and providers that you desire, or that makes most sense for your application.

The company takes advantage of cloud-native technologies, containerization and Kubernetes to break the proprietary barriers that exist between clouds, says company co-founder Laurent Gil. “We break these barriers of cloud providers so that an application does not need to sit in one place anymore. It can sit in several [providers] at the same time. And this is great for the Kubernetes application because they’re kind of designed with this [flexibility] in mind,” Gil said.

Developers use the policy engine to decide how much they want to control this process. They can simply set location and let Cast optimize the application across clouds automatically, or they can select at a granular level exactly the resources they want to use on which cloud. Regardless of how they do it, Cast will continually monitor the installation and optimize based on cost to give them the cheapest options available for their configuration.

The company currently has 25 employees with four new hires in the pipeline, and plans to double to 50 by the end of 2021. As they grow, the company is trying keep diversity and inclusion front and center in its hiring approach; they currently have women in charge of HR, marketing and sales at the company.

“We have very robust processes on the continuous education inside of our organization on diversity training. And a lot of us came from organizations where this was very visible and we took a lot of those processes [and lessons] and brought them here,” Frayman said.

Frayman has been involved with multiple startups, including Cujo.ai, a consumer firewall startup that participated in TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield in New York in 2016.

Uber refused permission to dismiss 11 staff at its EMEA HQ

By Natasha Lomas

Uber has been refused permission to dismiss 11 people at its EMEA headquarters in Amsterdam by the Dutch Employee Insurance Agency (UWV), the ride hailing company has confirmed.

The affected individuals did not take up an earlier severance offer as part of wider Uber layoffs earlier this year.

Uber announced major global layoffs of around 15% of its workforce in May — which included around 200 staff based in Amsterdam — blaming the cuts on changes to demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Late last week, Dutch newspaper NRC reported that Uber had been refused permission to fire the staff as the UWV had found there were no grounds for dismissal.

Per its report, affected Uber employees had faced pressure to accept Uber’s severance offer — saying they were disconnected from its internal systems the day after being informed of termination via Zoom video call and were then sent daily reminders to accept dismissal with Uber telling them ‘their position was ceasing to exist’.

Dutch law requires employers to obtain approval from the UWV for planned redundancies. But the majority of the affected staff in this instance accepted its severance offer before the agency had made a decision. Local press reports suggest many of those affected were expats — who may have been unaware of their labor rights under Dutch law.

We reached out to Uber with questions — and a company spokesperson sent us this statement:

Earlier this year we made the difficult decision to reduce our global headcount due to the dramatic impact of the pandemic, and the unpredictable nature of any eventual recovery. The headcount reductions in our EMEA Headquarters in Amsterdam are part of those efforts.

Uber also told us it does not agree with the UWV’s decision to refuse permission for it to dismiss the 11 employees who had not accepted severance, adding that it will review the decision before determining how to proceed.

It said the severance packages offered to the ~200 affected employees included at least 2.5 months of salary, health benefits to the end of the year, outplacement/recruitment support and additional support for Uber-sponsored visa holders.

Despite commitment to anti-racism, Uber’s Black employee base has decreased

By Megan Rose Dickey

Uber today released its latest diversity report, showing a decline in the overall representation of Black employees in the U.S. despite an increased focus on racial justice this year in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd. In 2019, Uber was 9.3% Black while this year, only 7.5% of its employees are Black.

Uber attributes the decline in Black employees to its layoffs earlier this year, where about 40% of its employees in community operations were laid off, Uber Chief Diversity Officer Bo Young Lee told TechCrunch.

“As a company that has so publicly stated its stance on anti-racism, that’s not acceptable,” she said.

That unintentional decline in the Black population at Uber “led to a lot of soul searching,” she said. “Dara was certainly upset by it. Every leader was. It reinforced how easy it is to lose some ground after all the work you’ve done.”

Lee said her diversity, equity and inclusion team was consulted prior to the layoffs in an attempt to ensure there was no disparate impact on any one group.

“The unfortunate thing that wasn’t understood at the time was our customer service org in particular was hit pretty hard,” she said. “The overall rate of layoffs was 25-26% in most parts.”

But in the customer service organization, about 40% of employees were affected. And that part of the company had a higher representation of Black and Latinx folks than in other areas.

While Uber saw a decline in its overall Black population, it saw an overall net increase in women of color. And in order to get even more granular, Uber plans to start disaggregating the Asian community and Latinx community.

Uber first set diversity goals just last year. Those goals entailed increasing the percentage of women at levels L5 (manager level) and higher to 35% and increasing the percentage of underrepresented employees at levels L4 (senior associate) and higher to 14% by 2022.

Source: Uber. Uber’s overall U.S. racial breakdown

Currently, Uber is 59.7% male, 44.8% white, 37.2% Asian, 7.5% Black, 8.4% Latinx, 1.3% multiracial, 0.3% Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander and 0.5% Native American.

Uber does not break out the demographics of its gig workforce, but many studies have shown people of color make up a large portion of the gig economy.

In San Francisco, 78% of gig workers are people of color and 56% of gig workers are immigrants, according to a study conducted by San Francisco’s Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) and led by UC Santa Cruz professor Chris Benner.

While Lee is not directly responsible for the driver and delivery population, she said they also represent a wide variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. With that in mind, her team does advise other parts of Uber in policy setting as it relates to gig workers.

Uber has had a contentious relationship with its drivers and delivery workers for the last couple of years, especially in California. That all came to a head when California voters passed Proposition 22, a ballot measure that will keep gig workers classified as independent contractors. Uber, Lyft, Instacart and DoorDash collectively proposed and backed the measure with $206 million in funding.

On the other side of the proposition were labor groups representing gig workers. But it wasn’t just gig workers who opposed the measure. Inside Uber, engineer Kurt Nelson spoke out against the measure. In fact, he credited the measure as being the final straw that led him to seek other job opportunities.

For Lee, deciding to support Prop 22 came down to paying attention to “who gets included and who gets excluded from policies.” When looking at AB 5, the California bill that changed the way companies could classify their workers, she “couldn’t help but notice the majority of independent contractor roles that were predominantly white were being excluded from AB 5.”

For example, California exempted from AB 5 fine artists, freelance writers, still photographers, copy editors, producers and other types of professions.

“Maybe if AB 5 was applied differently, I would’ve landed somewhere else,” Lee said, being sure to clarify she was speaking for herself and not for Uber. “For me, I recognize that Prop 22 was the right thing at the end of the day.”

Meanwhile, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has said the company plans to advocate for similar laws in other parts of the country and world. It’s not clear what that will specifically entail, but an Uber spokesperson said the company plans to discuss this type of framework with stakeholders in other states and countries.

 

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