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Political strategist turned tech investor Bradley Tusk on SPACs as a tool for VCs

Bradley Tusk has become known in recent years for being involved in what’s about to get hot, from his early days advising Uber, to writing one of the first checks to the insurance startup Lemonade, to pushing forward the idea that we should be using the smart devices in our pockets to vote.

Indeed, because he’s often at the vanguard, it wasn’t hugely surprising when Tusk, like a growing number of other investors, formed a $300 million SPAC or special acquisition company, one that he and a partner plan to use to target a business in the leisure, gaming, or hospitality industry, according to a regulatory filing.

Because Tusk — a former political operative who ran the successful third mayoral campaign for Mike Bloomberg —  seems adept at seeing around corners, we called him up late last week to ask whether SPACs are here to stay, how a Biden administration might impact the startup investing landscape, and how worried (or not) big tech should be about this election. You can hear the full conversation here. Owing to length, we are featuring solely the part of our conversation that centered on SPACs.

TC: Lemonade went public this summer and its shares, priced at $29, now trade at $70. 

BT: They are down today last I checked. When you only check once in a blue moon, you’re like, ‘Hey, look at how great this is,’ whereas if, like me, you check me every day, you’re like, ‘It lost 4%, where’s my money?’

We got really lucky; Lemonade was our second deal that we did out of our first fund, and the fact that it IPO’d within four years of the company’s founding is pretty amazing.

TC: Is it amazing? I wonder what it says about the common complaint that the traditional IPO process is bad — is it just an excuse?

BT: [CEO] Daniel Schrieber was very clear that he and [cofounder] Shai Wininger had a strategy from day one to go public as quickly as they possibly could, because in his view, an IPO is supposed to represent kind of the the beginning. It’s the ‘Okay, we’ve proven that there’s product market fit, we’ve proven that there’s customer demand; now let’s see what we can really do with this thing.’ And it’s supposed to be about hope and promise and future and excitement. And if you’ve been a private company for 10 years, and you’re worth tens of billions of dollars and your growth is already starting to flatten out a little bit, it’s just much less exciting for public investors.

The question now for everyone in our business is what happens with Airbnb in a few weeks or whenever they are [staging an IPO]. Will that pixie dust be there, or will they have been around so long that the market is kind of indifferent?

TC: Is that why we’re seeing so many SPACs? Some of that pixie dust is gone. No one knows when the IPO window might shut. Let’s get some of these companies out into the public market while we still can?

BT: No, I don’t I don’t think so. I think SPACs have become a way to raise a lot of money very quickly. It took me two years to raise $37 million for my first venture fund, and three months was the entire process for me to raise $300 million for my SPAC. So it’s a mechanism that is highly efficient and right now is so popular with public market investors that there is just a lot of opportunity, and people are grabbing it. In fact, now you’re hearing about people who are planning SPACs having to pull [them] back because there’s a ton of competition right now.

At the end of the day, the fundamentals still rule. If you take a really bad company public through a SPAC, maybe the excitement of the SPAC gets you an early pop. But if the company has neither good unit economics nor high growth, there’s no real reason to believe it will be successful. And especially for the people in the SPAC, where they have to hold on to it for a little while, by the time the lockup ends, the world has probably figured out that this is not the greatest IPO of all time. You can’t put lipstick on a pig.

TC: You say you raised the SPAC very quickly. How is the investor profile different than that of a typical venture fund investor?

BT:  The investors for this SPAC — at least when I did the roadshow, and I think I did 28 meetings over a couple of days — is mainly hedge funds and people who don’t really invest in venture at all, so there was no overlap between my [venture fund] LP base and the people who invested in our SPAC that I’m aware of. These are public market investors who are used to moving very quickly. There’s a lot more liquidity in a SPAC. We have two years to acquire something, but ultimately, it’s a public property, so investors can come in and out as they see fit.

TC: So it’s mostly hedge funds that are getting paid management fees to deploy their capital in this comparatively safe way and that are getting interest on the money invested, too, while it’s sitting around in a trust while [the SPAC managers] look for a target company.

BT: Why it kind of does make sense for [them to back] VCs is they are basically making the bet to say: does this person running the SPAC have enough deal flow, enough of a public profile, enough going on that they are going to come across the right target? And venture investors in many ways fit that profile because we just look at so many companies before deploying capital.

TC: Do you have to demonstrate some kind of public markets expertise in order to convince some of these investors that you know what it takes to take a company public and grow it in the public markets?

BT: I guess. We raised the money, so I guess I passed the test. But I did spend a little under two years on Wall Street; I created the lottery privatization group of Lehman Brothers. And my partner [in the SPAC], Christian Goode, has a lot of experience with big gaming companies. But overall, I think that if you are a venture investor with a ton of deal flow and a good track record but very little or no public market experience, I don’t know that that would disqualify you from being able to rate a SPAC.

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The Station: ADA turns 30, Panasonic’s new battery tech and delivery (data) woes

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

Hello and welcome back to The Station, a newsletter dedicated to all the present and future ways people and packages move from Point A to Point B.

Before we get into all the mobility news and analysis of the week I wanted to flag an upcoming event that might be of interest to the budding entrepreneurs out there. TC Disrupt, that BIG annual event we hold each fall, is virtual this year. I can’t tell you everything yet, except we put a lot of effort and tech into making this interactive and exciting. This is not going to some boring webinar.

We’re adding a bunch of new events to Disrupt this year, including something we’re calling Pitch Deck Teardown. Top venture capitalists and entrepreneurs will evaluate and suggest fixes for Disrupt 2020 attendees’ pitch decks. Investors who signed up for the Pitch Deck Teardown, include Aileen Lee of Cowboy Ventures, Charles Hudson with Venture Forward, Niko Bonatsos of General Catalyst, Megan Quinn with Spark Capital, Cyan Banister of Long Journey Ventures, Roelof Botha from Sequoia and Susan Lyne with BBG.

Only pitch decks of registered Disrupt attendees will be selected. Here’s a complete breakdown of the event and how to register.

The Pitch Deck Teardown couldn’t come at a better time either. During our Early Stage event last month, Jake Saper with Emergence Capital talked about how to time your Series A fundraise. September just so happens to be a big month for investors to review pitch decks.

Alrighty then. Vamos.

Friendly reminder that you can reach out and email me anytime 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.

Micromobbin’

This summer is turning out to be a crucial period for scooter companies vying for permits in a handful of markets. Cities learned a thing or two during that first wave of electric scooters that hit the streets a couple of years ago. This time around, city leaders are placing more restrictions on e-scooters and limiting the number of companies allowed to operate in an urban area. That’s an important change, and one that raises the stakes for scooter companies.

First there was Paris, which awarded Dott, Lime and Tier permits to operate in the city. Now, Chicago has issued permits to Bird, Lime and Spin for its second pilot program. Chicago is limiting scooter use to 15 mph between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. And there are few areas, like the Lakefront Trail, where scooters are prohibited.

Each scooter company is limited to no more than 3,333 devices, 50% of which must be deployed with an equity priority area. New to the second pilot is a requirement that all e-scooters must have locks that require riders to secure the scooter to a fixed object to end their trip.

On a side note, Lyft did not apply for the scooter permit. I asked Lyft, ‘why not?’ The company said it’s focusing on its expansion of Divvy, Chicago’s bike-sharing system. The city made Lyft the exclusive operator of Divvy last year and now starting to expand. The Divvy system will eventually include 16,500 bikes and 800 stations. Here’s what Lyft had to say:

“We have spent the better part of the last year working with communities in Chicago’s South and West Sides to prepare for new stations and ebikes. In order to prioritize our work with CDOT to expand Divvy and provide the highest possible experience for Divvy members, Lyft opted out of submitting an application that mirrored requests of this year’s scooter pilot. We are dedicated to the long-term success of micromobility in Chicago, and we look forward to future opportunities to work with the City to combine the benefits of bikes and scooters into one Divvy membership.”

In other micromobbin’ news …

Bird said Friday it is launching its shared e-scooters in Yonkers, New York as an “exclusive” operator. The word “exclusive” is one of those buzzwords that is tossed around a lot so I asked what this actually means. And Bird says it is the only company that will be issued a permit to operate in Yonkers. So there you have it. The company’s fleet of next-generation Bird Two scooters will be available to rent starting August 10.

Image Credits: Bird

Revel, the shared moped startup, has shut down operations in New York City following two deaths within days of each other. The startup’ blue mopeds had become a common sight in New York City. Revel, founded in March 2018 by Frank Reig and Paul Suhey, started with a pilot program in Brooklyn and later expanded to Queens. Revel has been on a fast-paced growth track, expanding to Austin, Miami and Washington, D.C in its first 18 months of operation. In January, the company launched in Oakland and recently announced plans to expand to San Francisco this August.

The company said in a statement that is reviewing its safety measures and does plan to return to New York.

Deal of the week

Prickly relations between China and the United States, particularly around trade, has not slowed the march of Chinese companies hoping to list on American stock exchanges. Li Auto is just the latest example, Rita Liao reported this week.

Li Auto is aiming for a growing Chinese middle class that aspires to drive cleaner, smarter and larger vehicles. Its first model, sold at a subsidized price of 328,000 yuan, or $46,800, is a six-seat electric SUV that began shipping at the end of last year.

The five-year-old Chinese electric vehicle startup raised $1.1 billion through its debut on Nasdaq. Li Auto priced its IPO north of its targeted range at $11.5 per share, giving it a fully diluted market value of $10 billion. It also raised an additional $380 million in a concurrent private placement of shares to existing investors.

Image credit: Li Auto

Other deals that got my attention this week …

Argo AI is now valued at $7.5 billion, a figure that was confirmed Thursday, nearly two months after VW Group finalized its $2.6 billion investment in the autonomous vehicle technology startup. You might recall that Argo came out of nowhere in 2017 with $1 billion (to be spread over several years) in back from Ford. Last year, VW announced it was going to invest in Argo as well.

Under the deal that was finalized last month, Ford and VW have equal ownership stakes, which will be roughly 40% each over time. The remaining equity sits with Argo’s co-founders as well as employees. Argo’s board is comprised of two VW seats, two Ford seats and three Argo seats. Ford said Thursday it netted $3.5 billion in the second quarter from selling some of its Argo equity to Volkswagen.

AUTO1 Group, the European digital used-car trading platform, raised 255 million euros ($300 million) in the form of convertible notes. The round  was led by Farallon Capital Management and the Baupost Group as well as existing investor Softbank Group, the NYT reported.

Cargo.one, a Berlin-based startup that runs a marketplace for booking air freight, closed an $18.6 million Series A round of funding led by Index Ventures. Other participants in the round include Next47 as well as prior backers Creandum, Lufthansa Cargo and Point Nine Capital. A number of angel investors also joined in, including Tom Stafford of DST Global and Carlos Gonzalez-Cadenas, the COO of GoCardless and former chief product officer of Skyscanner.

LINE MAN, the Thai food delivery platform that is a unit of Japanese chat app LINE Corp, raised $110 million from BRV Capital Management and merged with a local restaurant aggregator. LINE MAN is loading up on capital as it aims to compete with Singapore-based Grab, Indonesia’s Go-Jek and Foodpanda of Germany’s Delivery Hero SE, Reuters reported.

FreightWaves, the freight data and analytics company, raised $37 million in a round led by Kayne Partners Fund. Other investors include 8VC, Fontinalis Partners, Revolution Ventures, Hearst Ventures, Prologis Ventures, Story Ventures and Engage Ventures.

Theeb Rent-a-Car is looking into a potential initial public offering. The Saudi Arabian rental company hired Saudi Fransi Capital to advise on the IPO, Bloomberg reported.

Toyota is taking a 10% stake in BluE Nexus, a company that makes electric drive modules. The investment is part of a deepening collaboration between the two companies.

Xpeng, the Chinese electric vehicle startup and Tesla rival that just announced a $500 million Series C+ round, is reportedly in talks to raise around $300 million ahead of an initial public offering (IPO) in the United States. (back to my earlier point about interest among Chinese companies to list on U.S. stock exchanges)

Delivery and data (breaches)

Image credit: Getty

If you hadn’t noticed, delivery has been cast as one of the big success stories to emerge during the COVID-19 pandemic. I use the term “cast” because it’s not all sunshine, roses and rainbows for the delivery industry or its users.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a spike in demand for delivery services. It has also helped propel unprecedented consolidation as companies like Uber seek profitability.

There are challenges though, including an area that perhaps deserves A LOT MORE ATTENTION. I’m talking about data and privacy. Delivery companies, which includes a growing number of autonomous and teleoperated services, collect a ton of personal data from its customers. The kind of valuable data, like home addresses and credit card numbers, that are sold on the dark web.

This week, our cybersecurity editor Zack Whittaker reported on two data breaches involving delivery companies. The first was Drizly, one of the biggest online alcohol delivery services in the U.S. and Canada, raising over $68 million to date. Drizly told customers a hacker “obtained” some customer data. The hacker took customer email addresses, date-of-birth, passwords hashed using the stronger bcrypt algorithm and, in some cases, delivery addresses.

As many as 2.5 million Drizly accounts are believed to have been stolen. Here’s something to take note of, Drizy told TechCrunch that no financial information was compromised. However, a listing on a dark web marketplace from a well-known seller of stolen data claims otherwise. TechCrunch, of course, didn’t link to it. But Whittaker did take and share a screenshot.

Meanwhile, online shopping and delivery service Instacart is blaming customers who reused passwords for a recent spate of account breaches. The data breach compromised 270,000 Instacart customers. The company published a statement late on Thursday saying its investigation showed that Instacart “was not compromised or breached,” but pointed to credential stuffing, where hackers take lists of usernames and passwords stolen from other breached sites and brute-force their way into other accounts.

Customers can’t shoulder all of the responsibility. Instacart, as Whittaker notes, still does not support two-factor authentication, which — if customers had enabled — would have prevented the account hacks to begin with.

Other delivery news …

Flipkart, which is owned by Walmart, launched a hyperlocal service in suburbs of Bangalore, four years after the e-commerce group abruptly concluded its previous foray into this category.

The new service called Flipkart Quick uses the company’s supply chain infrastructure and a new location mapping technology framework to deliver within 90 minutes to customers more than 2,000 products across grocery, perishables, smartphones, electronics accessories and stationary items.

It’s electric

Remember the days when electric vehicle news was relegated to Tesla, the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Bolt? Times have changed and, well, stayed the same. Tesla still dominates the headlines and this week wasn’t any different. (more on them later). But now, there are dozens of other electric vehicle models coming to market. The upshot: charging infrastructure is becoming more important. (Hey, not everyone has a garage).

This week, GM and EVgo announced plans to add more than 2,700 new fast chargers. The rollout, which will take five years, will triple the size of the EVgo network. The first of these new EVgo fast charging stations will be available to customers starting early 2021.

The companies are targeting high-traffic areas like grocery stores, retail outlets, entertainment centers, areas where people typically spend 15 to 30 minutes. The stations, which will be powered by renewable energy, will feature new charging technology with 100 to 350-kilowatt capabilities, the companies said.

The charging partnership follows a numerous announcements from GM around its electric vehicle strategy. Earlier this week, GM said steel construction has started on the nearly 3-million-square-foot factory that will mass produce Ultium battery cells and packs. The Ultium battery, along with a modular propulsion system and electric vehicle platform, is the cornerstone of GM’ strategy to bring 20 electric vehicles to market by 2023.

GM recently released a video of its upcoming GMC Hummer EV and next week plans to reveal the Cadillac LYRIQ.

Image Credits: GM/EVgo

Other electric news this week …

BMW said it will offer the all-electric versions of X1 compact SUV and the 5 Series as part of the German automaker’s plans to have 25 electrified models in its portfolio by 2023.

Electric Brands is working on a VW Bus-inspired EV called the eBussy, via The Drive.

Fisker Inc. revealed in a presentation that was filed with the SEC that a “cornerstone agreement” with Volkswagen has been delayed, the Verge reported. Fisker wants to use Volkswagen’s modular EV platform for its upcoming electric vehicles.

Kandi Technologies Group, the Chinese electric vehicle and parts manufacturer, bringing two EVs to the United States through its subsidiary Kandi America. The two models, which are priced under $30,000 before federal incentives, will be the cheapest EVs in the United States.

Lucid Motors provided new details about its upcoming electric vehicle, the Air. In short, this luxury EV sedan is loaded up with hardware — dozens of sensors, a driver monitoring system and an Ethernet-based architecture — for an advanced driver assistance system that aims to match and even surpass its rivals.

There will be 32 sensors in all, according to Lucid, which has branded its advanced driver assistance system DreamDrive. Lidar, a sensor that gets a lot of attention, will be on the vehicle. But I was struck by the number of radar sensors on the Air. There will be five radars in all, giving the vehicle 360 degrees of radar coverage.

Panasonic revealed to TechCrunch this week that it developed new battery technology for the “2170” lithium-ion cells it produces and supplies to Tesla, a change that improves energy density by 5% and reduces costly cobalt content. The new, higher energy dense 2170 cells will be produced by Panasonic at Tesla’s factory in Sparks, Nevada. Improvements on the battery tech will continue with a 20% improvement in energy density over the next five years and a goal to be cobalt free.

Rivian’s retail strategy is starting to emerge. The company has said it will try and repurpose existing buildings for its stores, when possible. This week, the company said it is pursuing the purchase of the historic Laguna Beach South Coast Cinema. The theater’s present structure, was opened in 1935 and stood as the city’s only cinema until it closed its doors in August 2015.

Tesla’s sales in China are becoming increasingly important to its bottom line. An SEC filing this week shows that revenue in China climbed 102.9% year-over-year to $1.4 billion. That means China now makes up 23.3% of Tesla’s total revenues of $6 billion in the quarter, compared to just about 11% in the same period a year before.

Tesla also revealed in the same SEC filing that it received payroll-related benefits from the government, funds that helped reduce the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on its business, Reuters reported.

Speaking of Tesla … CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter on Tuesday night to say that the automaker would be “open to licensing software and supplying powertrains & batteries” to other automakers. Musk added that that would even include Autopilot, the advanced driver assistance software that Tesla offers to provide intelligent cruise control in a number of different driving scenarios. No word on whether any companies are biting.

ADA and mobility

Image Credits: iStock / Getty Images

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 paved the way for decades of incremental changes to the way buildings, businesses and laws accommodate people with a wide variety of disabilities. As reporter Devin Coldewey notes, the law’s effect on tech has been profound.

There is still a lot of work to do. I’m looking at all of you autonomous vehicle engineers, designers and founders.

Here are a few stories that highlight the impact of ADA.

Start with Coldewey’s overview on ADA and tech. Then move over to Streetsblog, which digs into the role bicycles have played as mobility assistive devices. Finally, check out this story on Fable, a startup that aims to make disability-inclusive design easier by providing testing and development assistance from disabled folks on-demand.

See ya’ll next week. 

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Lime, Dott and Tier win Paris scooter permits, delivering Bird a loss in a key market

American micromobility startups Lime along with European competitors Dott and Tier Mobility have won permits to operate shared electric scooters in Paris, following a seven-month tender process that had as many as 16 companies vying for a spot.

Paris is one of a handful of cities in the world that have become key battlegrounds over market share in the shared micromobility market. The permits are a critical win for Dott, Lime and Tier. It conversely represents a major loss for U.S.-based Bird, which just a year ago made a big bet on the French market and announced plans to open up its biggest European office in Paris. Bird said at the time that it wanted to hire 1,000 people by mid-2021.

Other companies that applied for the permit included Bolt, Comodule, Spin, Voi and Wind.

The three operators will each be allowed to deploy 5,000 scooters in Paris for two years. The city is creating 2,500 dedicated parking spots for the devices in an effort to avoid clutter on sidewalks, a primary complaint in cities that have allowed shared scooters companies to set up shop.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo made the announcement via Twitter. A complete translation of the three tweets are below.

Congratulations to Lime, Dott and Tier, winners of the tender for scooters in Paris. Those 3 operators will be the only ones that can each deploy a maximum of 5,000 scooters in Paris.

Operators have been selected according to three criteria: environmental responsibility, user safety, scooter maintenance and charging management (edited)

I remind scooter users that they should respect pedestrians and the rules of the road during their trips and that they should park in the allocated areas: 2,500 dedicated parking spots are currently being created in Paris.

All three scooter companies have made a variety of environmental and social pledges for its operations in Paris and beyond in an effort to win over cities and shore up their business models. For instance, Lime said in a blog post Thursday that it powers its warehouses with local renewable energy, employs an extensive repair and reuse program with local labor, recycles 97% of materials at end of life, and operates a certified CarbonNeutral fleet in accordance with the CarbonNeutral Protocol.

Dott and Tier have made similar commitments. Dott said each of its scooters will be equipped with a removable battery, recharged with renewable energy and serviced entirely by its own local full-time employees. Dott said it plans to offer fixed-price tickets in Paris for access to its scooters with round-trip passes costing €3.99 and 7-day unlimited unlocking pass at €2.9. Unlocking fee usually €1/trip.

Earlier this month, Dott, Tier and Voi announced a sustainability coalition that makes 10 environmental and social pledges, including commitments to not use gig economy workers in any market, use at least 20% recycled material in all new e-scooters from 2021 and as of this year, for all new scooters to have swappable batteries.

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The Station: Hertz files for bankruptcy, hailing “self-driving” scooters, Memorial Day travel

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 and welcome back to The Station. Memorial Day is this coming Monday, a holiday meant to honor military personnel who died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. Over the years, it has evolved for many Americans who use the three-day weekend to fire up the grill, go camping, head to the beach, local amusement park or take a road trip. It’s become the unofficial kickoff to the summer season — even though we still have more than three weeks of spring.

Every year around this time, AAA provides an estimate for travel over the weekend. For the first time in 20 years, AAA said it would not issue a Memorial Day travel forecast, as the accuracy of the economic data used to create the forecast has been undermined by COVID-19.

The travel forecast often reflects the state of the economy or at least certain aspects of it. For instance, Memorial Day 2009 holds the record for the lowest travel volume at nearly 31 million travelers. Last year, 43 million Americans traveled for Memorial Day Weekend, the second-highest travel volume on record since 2000, when the organization began tracking this data.

I will put my prognosticator hat on for a moment knowing I might very well be wrong (I’m sure ya’ll will remind me later). I expect this weekend to be a low travel holiday, but I fully anticipate this summer will mark the return of the road trip. And that’s not just my forecast for the U.S. I expect Europeans will stick closer to home and opt for road and possibly train travel over long haul flights for their summer holidays. That has all kinds of implications, positive and negative. And it’s why I’m going to spend some time in the coming weeks driving a variety of new SUV models in search of road trip worthy vehicles.

This past week I drove the 2020 VW Atlas Cross Sport V6 SEL (premium trim), a more smaller and approachable version of the massive three-row Atlas. I will share a few thoughts about it next week. After that, I will be driving the 2020 Land Cruiser standard trim. Have a vehicle suggestion? Reach out and I’ll try to put it in my queue.

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

Shall we get down to it? Vamos.

Micromobbin’

Micromobility had some good action this week so let’s dive on in. Here in San Francisco, Bird’s Scoot redeployed 300 electric kick scooters. By Memorial Day weekend, Scoot will have 500 electric scooters available. Additionally, Scoot expanded its scooter service area to serve more parts of San Francisco.

Over in Atlanta, GoX and Tortoise teamed up to deploy teleoperated electric scooters. In Peachtree Corners, GoX riders can hail a scooter equipped with tech from Tortoise. As Keaks, aka Kirsten Korosec, explained earlier this week, riders can request a scooter to come to them and once they’re done, the scooter will drive itself back to a parking spot.

Meanwhile, in Europe, Tier brought integrated helmets to its electric scooters. The foldable helmets fit inside a box attached to the scooter below the handlebars. This month, Tier plans to deploy 200 scooters equipped with helmets in Paris and Berlin. Over the summer, Tier will deploy an additional 5,000 helmet-equipped scooters. Additionally, given concerns about COVID-19, Tier is experimenting with an antibacterial, self-disinfecting handlebar technology from Protexus. Tier is testing these handlebars in Paris and Bordeaux.

Also, don’t miss my analysis of why micromobility may come back stronger after the pandemic.

Megan Rose Dickey

Deal of the week

Vroom, the online used car marketplace that has raised some $700 million since 2013, filed for an IPO this week. (Yes, IPOs qualify as deals in my book). It plans to trade on the Nasdaq under VRM with Goldman Sachs as lead underwriter.

Vroom is an interesting company that I’ve been writing about for years now. And there have been times that I wondered if it would fold altogether. The company managed to keep raising funds though, most recently $254 million in December 2019 in a Series H round that valued the company at around $1.5 billion.

A look at the S-1 shows modest growth, rising losses and slim gross margins. Eck!

Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Vroom’s revenue grew 39.3% in 2019 compared to 2018. During that same period, its gross margin fell from 7.1% to 4.9%. The company’s net losses as a percent of revenue rose from 10% in 2018 to 12% in 2019. (That doesn’t include costs relating to “accretion of redeemable convertible preferred stock.” By counting the non-cash cost, add $13 million to Vroom’s 2018 net loss and $132.8 million to its 2019 figure.)
  • In the first quarter of 2020, Vroom generated revenue of $375.8 million, leading to gross profit of $18.4 million, or about 4.9% of revenue. It also reported a net loss of $41.1 million in the first quarter, putting it on a run-rate to lose even more money in 2020 than it did in 2019.

TechCrunch’s Alex Wilhelm takes a look under Vroom’s hood and digs into why the company is heading to the public markets during this volatile time. Check it out.

Other deals:

Missfresh, a Chinese grocery delivery company backed by Tencent, is closing in on $500 million in new funding.

Autonomous aviation startup Xwing locked in a $10 million funding round before COVID-19 hit. Now the San Francisco-based startup is using the capital to hire talent and scale the development of its software stack as it aims for commercial operations later this year — pending FAA approvals. The Series A funding round was led by R7 Partners, with participation from early-stage VC Alven, Eniac Ventures and Thales Corporate Ventures.

Fly Now Pay Later, a London-based fintech startup focused on travel, raised £5 million in Series A equity funding and another £30 million in debt funding.

French startup Angell has signed a wide-ranging partnership with SEB, the French industrial company behind All-Clad, Krups, Moulinex, Rowenta, Tefal and others. As part of the deal, SEB will manufacture Angell’s electric bikes in a factory near Dijon, France. SEB’s investment arm, SEB Alliance, is also investing in Angell. The terms of the deal are undisclosed, but Angell says it plans to raise between $7.6 and $21.7 million with a group of investors that include SEB.

Layoffs, business disruptions and people

Signage is displayed at the Hertz Global Holdings Inc. rental counter at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, May 5, 2020. Photo: Getty Images

Hertz filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Friday, a move we’ve been anticipating for awhile now. The bankruptcy protection stems from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here’s why.

Once business trips and other travel was halted, Hertz was suddenly sitting on an unused asset — lots and lots of cars. It wasn’t just that the revenue spigot was turned off. Used car prices have dropped, further devaluing its fleet.

The company said that it has more than $1 billion in cash on hand, which it will use to keep the business operating through the bankruptcy process. Hertz also said its principal international operating regions, including Europe, Australia and New Zealand are not included in the U.S. Chapter 11 proceedings, nor are franchised locations.

Other layoffs:

Indian ride-hailing firm Ola has seen revenue drop by 95% in the last two months as India enforced a stay-at-home order for its 1.3 billion citizens in late March. You can guess what has happened as a result. Ola co-founder and CEO Bhavish Aggarwal said in an internal email the company is cutting 1,400 jobs in India, or 35% of its workforce in the home market.

India’s top food delivery startup Swiggy is cutting 1,100 jobs and scaling down some adjacent businesses as it looks to reduce costs to survive the coronavirus pandemic.

Here’s something on the “new” job front

There’s been a lot of attention on autonomous delivery robots. These companies will most certainly struggle to become profitable. On-demand delivery is a tricky business. But COVID-19 might have inadvertently expanded the labor pool for these companies.

On-demand delivery startup Postmates has seen an increase in demand for its autonomous delivery robots known as Serve, which operate in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The company uses teleoperators, humans who remotely monitor and guide the autonomous robots. COVID-19 prompted Postmates to set up teleoperations centers within each employee’s home. Postmates sees potential to reach a new group of workers.

Tortoise, which we mentioned earlier in Micromobbin’, sees the same potential, according to its founder and CEO Dmitry Shevelenko.

A little bird

We hear (and see) things. But we’re not selfish. We share!

For those not familiar with “a little bird,” this is a periodic section that shares insider tips that have been vetted. This week comes out of the super-hyped world of on-demand delivery. It’s a business that might be seeing a lot of demand. But demand doesn’t always square with profitability.

Take Postmates for example. The company has raised about $900 million to date, including a $225 million round announced in October that valued the company at about $2.5 billion. But now it seems that common shares are trading at a 45% discount on the secondary market, according to our sources.

Early investors do take money off the table from time to time. But it can also indicate other troubles worth watching out for. Postmates filed confidential IPO paperwork in February 2019, but those plans have been delayed. The company is also fighting for market share against giants like Doordash. A Uber-Grubhub merger would put it even with DoorDash.

That leaves Postmates in a distant fourth. Dan Primack over at Axios noted “multiple sources” have told him the company is seeking raise around $100 million in new private-market funding.

Other notable bits

Here are a few other items that caught my eye …

Amazon is joining India’s online food delivery market just as top local players Swiggy and Zomato reduce their workforce to steer through the coronavirus pandemic and months after Uber Eats’ exit from the nation.

GM has a “big team” working on an advanced version of its hands-free driving assistance system, Super Cruise, that will expand its capability beyond highways and apply it to city streets, the automaker’s vice president of global product development Doug Parks said during a webcasted interview at Citi’s 2020 Car of the Future Symposium.

Cake, the Stockholm-based mobility startup, debuted the Kalk OR, a 150-pound, battery-powered two-wheeler engineered for agile off-road riding and available in a street-legal version.

Nauto has launched a new feature in its driver behavior learning platform that is designed to detect imminent collisions to help reduce rear-end accidents. It works by taking in driver behavior data, vehicle movement, traffic elements, and contextual data to help predict and prevent collisions.

Organizers of the New York International Auto Show, once hoping to hold the rescheduled event in August, have decided to scrap the entire year. The show has been officially canceled for 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers announced Friday. The next show will take place April 2 to April 11, 2021. Press days will be March 31 and April 1.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the company is raising the price of its “Full Self-Driving” package of its Autopilot driver assistance package by around $1,000 on July 1. This has happened before and it will, I promise happen again. The Verge has a good breakdown of why. I, of course, care about the financial reasons. Right now, Tesla can only count about half of the revenue it generates from FSD. The other half is deferred revenue — money that Tesla can recognize on its balance sheet at a later date.

Wunder Mobility, the Hamburg-based startup that provides a range of mobility services, from carpooling to electric scooter rentals, announced the launch of Wunder Vehicles and a business-to-business partnership with Chinese EV manufacturer Yadea. Wunder Vehicles is a service that gives customers a toolkit of sorts to launch a fleet-sharing company. The company provides software, a marketing plan, data, financing options and the electric vehicles, which will come from Yadea.

Rad Power Bikes unveiled the newest iteration of its electric cargo bike. The RadWagon 4 has been fully redesigned from the ground up. Trucks VC’s Reilly Brennan recently described this on Twitter as the possible F-150 of micromobility. We hope to test it soon.

Image Credits: Rad Power Bikes

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As Uber (reportedly) squeezes Lime, scooter startups run low on juice

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

In December of 2019, this column wrote an entry detailing Uber’s micro-mobility efforts. Just six months ago — a mere two quarters — Uber’s Jump team was on the record saying that its parent company wanted to “double down on micro-mobility.” At the time, before COVID-19 and the decline in human travel, it made some sense.

Things have changed for both Uber and micro-mobility sector. Uber’s financial performance was looking up before the pandemic, with the company promising a more aggressive adjusted profitability timeline. Lime, a dockless scooter company, was also making noise about profits—or something close to them.

Both goals now seem out of reach. Bird and Lime, the best-known American scooter companies, have both cut staff this year. And The Information recently reported that Uber may invest in Lime at a dramatically lowered valuation with an option to buy the company at a later date.

As Uber already has its own micro-mobility bet (recall that it bought JUMP and thus has its own scooters in-market), why would it go through the bother of repricing Lime to maybe buy it later? The Information notes that Uber’s own micro-mobility bet is expensive. But given Lime’s own persistent losses and cash burn I couldn’t make the idea square in my head. So, this morning let’s peek at Uber’s numbers ahead of earnings and see what we can learn about its 2019 in the micro-mobility world, and if that helps us understand why it might drop up to nine figures on Lime during the smaller company’s struggles.

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IPOs, crypto funds and other things I missed this week

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

What a week it’s been. I’m exhausted. Not only are we another cycle deeper into the COVID-19 quarantine, but there seems to be more news than ever to sift through. I’ve fallen behind. So, today, this little column is taking look back at things that it missed but wanted to cover. (There may come a day when we run out of stuff to talk about, but it’s not coming any time soon.)

So let’s talk about a16z’s new crypto fund, recent economic data, the Ebang F-1, Lime’s layoffs, Procore’s IPO delay and fresh valuation, stocks, Luckin, and, if we have time, Twitter’s changing jobs data. Let’s get this all out of our heads and into the world.

Odds, ends

To annoy my editors, we’re using bullet points this morning. Bullet points are great way to convey a bloc of information in a neat format. Let the haters hate, we have a lot of ground to cover:

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The Station: Via hits $2.25B valuation, letters from readers, layoffs in a time of COVID-19

Hi, and welcome back to The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to all the ways people and packages travel from Point A to Point B. I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch. If this is your first time, hello; I’m glad you’re with us.
I have started to publish a version of the newsletter on TechCrunch. That’s what you’re reading now. For the whole newsletter, which comes out every weekend, you can subscribe by heading over here, and clicking “The Station.” It’s free!
Last week, I asked readers to share how …

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Pandemic puts the brakes on micromobility

As of this writing, nearly a million people globally have been infected with the novel coronavirus and 50,322 have died. Healthcare systems are overwhelmed, consumers and profiteers are hoarding supplies and some service workers have launched strikes while many others have been let go. In the world of micromobility, we’ve …

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Bird finally deploys the Bird Two scooter

Bird is rolling out its Bird Two scooters, which the company first unveiled back in August, via Scoot in San Francisco. The scooters were expected to deploy much sooner, with Bird’s original announcement saying it would roll out the following week, but it’s better late than never, as some say. Scoot’s plan is to deploy up to 1,000 of these Bird Two scooters.

“With each new generation of electric vehicle we bring to San Francisco, fewer San Franciscans have a need to get in a car,” Scoot founder and Bird SVP of Cities Michael Keating said in a statement. “Bird Two continues this trend with industry-leading performance, range, and safety features, allowing our riders to replace even more of their car trips with micromobility.”

What’s unique about the Bird Two is its self-reporting damage sensors that notify the company of any vehicle issues. While Bird is not the first company to come up with this idea, it’s the first one to deploy an electric scooter with this type of system. Superpedestrian, which has about $64 million in funding, has been working on self-diagnosing scooters for years, but it has yet to deploy those scooters.

To help circumvent theft and vandalism, the Bird Two also comes with puncture-resistant tires, anti-theft encryption built into the operating system and a minimum of exposed screws.

Scoot, like other operators in San Francisco, were early targets of scooter theft. During the first two weeks of Scoot’s operations of shared, electric scooters in San Francisco, more than 200 scooters were either stolen or damaged beyond repair. To combat theft, Scoot added locks to its vehicles. Now, the city has made locks a requirement, but mostly to help control sidewalk congestion. With the Bird Two scooter, Scoot will have additional theft and vandalism protections.

This deployment comes shortly after Bird acquired European rival Circ, while simultaneously announcing a $75 million extension of its Series D funding round. That total round size is now $350 million.

Source: TechCrunch

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As Bird buys Circ, a rewind of scooter VC, M&A and financial reporting

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

While the IPO cycle reprices former unicorns and concern imbues the private market with profit warnings, it turns out that there is still appetite for scooter startups. Even more, there’s hunger for both combinations in the space (not a surprise), and for scooter startup shares (which may be).

As TechCrunch reported yesterday, Bird, an American scooter startup worth several billion dollars, consumed one of its European rivals and raised $75 million in the process. Circ, the formerly independent scooter shop, was struggling to have enough cash on hand and had undergone layoffs, despite having raised €55 million a year ago (that round was announced in January 2019).

The subsumption of Circ comes after other scooter companies underwent layoffs themselves, and in some cases, struggled to raise fresh capital. Tie all of that to the fact that 2019 brought several sharply negative financial reports from Big Scooter, and the result is a milieu that’s been hard to track from a purely financial perspective; this is all the more complicated when we take product and geography into the mix, of course. This morning we’ll fix that by racing through what’s happened since mid-2018 in Scooterdom in accounting terms.

Timeline

What follows is a financial highlights reel, naturally, but one that should provide us with a good overview of the ebb and flow of the world of scooters and micromobility over the last six quarters or so:

Source: TechCrunch