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Walmart is buying JoyRun assets to add ‘peer-to-peer’ product delivery

The last time we wrote about JoyRun, it was raising $10 million. Today, the Bay Area startup has some very different news to share, as it becomes part of Walmart as Walmart has purchased select assets in a bid to enhance its supply chain. The mega-retailer announced today that it has acquired “select assets – including the talent, technology platform and IP” from the company, in a bid to incorporate its peer-to-peer food and drink delivery service into its own last-mile logistics.

Walmart EVP Srini Venkatesan notes that the app has amassed a network of 540 third-party merchant partners and north of 30,000 people who have delivered goods with the service since its launch half-a-decade ago. JoyRun’s service is a bit of twist on more standard delivery apps like Seamless and Uber Eats.

As we described it back in 2017, “The company’s app lets people find out who, nearby, is already heading out to a restaurant that they like, then tack on an order of their own.” It will be interesting to see how Walmart integrates this technology into its existing chain, though from the sound it, Walmart would essentially be relying on non-professionals to delivery goods like groceries.

The system would likely operate in a manner like Amazon Flex — a kind of Uber/Lyft gig economy-style approach to delivery.

“This acquisition allows us to further augment our team and ongoing efforts to explore even more ways to deliver for customers in the future,” Venkatesan adds. “For instance, Runners could complement our SPARK program and 3rd Party delivery providers. Our goal is to deliver as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

Walmart expects the deal to close “in the coming weeks,” which will incorporate JoyRun into its Supply Chain Technology team. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

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Reliance Retail buys Urban Ladder for $24.4 million

Reliance Retail has acquired a majority stake in furniture and decor platform Urban Ladder, making a broader push into e-commerce as the largest retail chain in India gears up to fight Amazon and Flipkart.

In a filing to the local stock exchange, Reliance Retail said it had acquired a 96% stake in Urban Ladder for about $24.43 million. The Indian retail giant, which retains the option to acquire the remainder stake in the seven-and-a-half-years-old startup, said it has proposed to invest up to $10.06 million more in Urban Ladder by December 2023.

Founded in early 2012, Urban Ladder sells home furniture and decor products online. It also operates a chain of physical retail stores in several Indian cities. The deal size suggests that it was a fire sale.

The startup had raised about $115 million from Sequoia Capital, SAIF Partners, Steadview Capital, and MIT and other investors, according to Crunchbase and Tracxn. In the financial year that ended in March, the Indian startup reported a loss of $6.63 million on a turnover of $58.2 million.

Reliance Retail said (PDF) the investment “will further enable the group’s digital and new commerce initiatives and widen the bouquet of consumer products provided by the group, while enhancing user engagement and experience across its retail offerings.”

Urban Ladder is the latest acquisition for Reliance Retail, which earlier this year said it had entered into a $3.4 billion deal with Future Group to buy several of India’s second largest retail chain’s businesses. In August, Reliance acquired a 60% stake in pharma marketplace Netmeds’ parent firm Vitalic for about $83.2 million.

Reliance Retail, which is part of Reliance Industries (India’s most valued firm), has raised about $6.4 billion in recent months after its sister subsidiary, Jio Platforms, secured over $20 billion this year from Facebook and Google among other high-profile investors.

Reliance Retail, which serves more than 3.5 million customers each week through its nearly 10,000 physical stores in more than 6,500 cities and towns in the country, entered the e-commerce space with JioMart through a joint venture with Jio Platforms. JioMart now has a presence in over 200 Indian cities and towns, and it also maintains a partnership with Facebook for WhatsApp integration.

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ByteDance asks federal appeals court to vacate U.S. order forcing it to sell TikTok

In a new filing, TikTok’s parent company ByteDance asked the federal appeals court to vacate the United States government order forcing it to sell the app’s American operations.

President Donald Trump issued an order in August requiring ByteDance to sell TikTok’s U.S. business by November 12, unless it was granted a 30-day extension by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). In today’s filing (embedded below) with the federal appeals court in Washington D.C., ByteDance said it asked the CFIUS for an extension on November 6, but the order hasn’t been granted yet.

It added it remains committed to “reaching a negotiated mitigation solution with CFIUS satisfying its national security concerns” and will only file a motion to stay enforcement of the divestment order “if discussions reach an impasse.”

Security concerns about TikTok’s ownership by a Chinese company were at the center of the executive order Trump signed in August, banning transactions with Beijing-headquartered ByteDance.

The executive order claimed that TikTok posed a threat to national security, though ByteDance maintains that it does not. But in order to prevent the app, which has about 100 million users in the U.S., from being banned, ByteDance reached a deal in September to sell 20% of its stake in TikTok to Oracle and Walmart. With the Biden administration set to take office in January and ByteDance’s ongoing legal challenge against the divestment order, however, the future of the deal is now uncertain.

The new filing is part of a lawsuit TikTok filed against the Trump administration on September 18. It won an early victory when the court stopped the U.S. government’s ban from going into effect on its original deadline that month.

In a statement emailed to TechCrunch, a TikTok spokesperson said it has been working with the CFIUS for a year to address its national security concerns “even as we disagree with its assessment.”

Facing continual new requests and no clarity on whether our proposed solutions would be accepted, we requested the 30-day extension that is expressly permitted in the August 14 order,” the statement continued.

“Today, with the November 12 CFIUS deadline imminent and without an extension in hand, we have no choice but to file a petition in court to defend our rights and those of our more than 1,500 employees in the US.” 

TikTok asks U.S. federal appeals court to vacate U.S. divestment order by TechCrunch on Scribd

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Walmart reportedly ends contract with inventory robotics startup Bossa Nova

Robotics and automation startups have seen a strong uptick in interest over the course of the pandemic. And it’s easy to see which companies have a newfound interest in automating their workforce amid a seemingly endless virus-driven shutdown. But Walmart, which has long promised to take an increasing focus on such technology, has reportedly pulled the plug on one of its highest-profile partnerships.

The mega-retailer has ended a contract with Bossa Nova Robotics, according to new reporting from The Wall Street Journal. Walmart had announced in January that it would bring the Bay Area-based startup’s inventory-scanning robots to an additional 650 locations, bringing the total up to 1,000. The move has resulted in layoffs of around 50% at the Carnegie Mellon spin-off, per the WSJ report. It’s a huge hit at a time when such technologies should be thriving.

Bossa Nova co-founder Sarjoun Skaff didn’t confirm nor deny the WSJ report, instead issuing a no comment. He did, however, weigh in on the COVID-19 pandemic and its affect on the company, seeming to confirm that some layoffs had indeed occurred.

“I cannot comment on Walmart, however, the pandemic has forced us to streamline our operations and focus on our core technologies,” Skaff said. “We have made stunning advances in AI and robotics. Our retail AI is the industry’s best and works as well on robots as with fixed cameras, and our hardware, autonomy and operations excelled in more than 500 of the world’s most challenging stores. With the board’s full support, we continue deploying this technology with our partners in retail and in other fields.”

The tumult at Bossa Nova has stretched beyond layoffs. Skaff, who was CTO, took over the CEO spot in October when Stuart Pann left the position after less than nine months. Bossa Nova’s deal with Walmart was a major break for the startup, which began life in 2005 as a robotic toymaker before pivoting into something more serious. The startup’s relationship with Walmart dates back to 2017, when the chain ordered 50 robots.  Walmart’s massive order earlier was a major endorsement of Bossa Nova’s technology.

Such a change of heart would no doubt have a profound effect on the company.

Walmart apparently just wasn’t getting enough out of the deal. Bossa Nova’s robots had made their way into around 500 stores by the time the deal ended — around half of the initial proposed number. As COVID-19 has pushed more orders online, Walmart began exploring ways to use human workers to perform inventory while grabbing product for online fulfillment. Walmart’s operations, as well as those at other major retailers, will continue to evolve as brick-and-mortar locations reopen and customers shows signs of interest to return to the in-person shopping experience. The volatility of the pandemic still doesn’t lessen the sting or impact that Walmart’s abrupt reversal will have on Bossa Nova and its hopes for a rebound.

Meanwhile, Walmart’s robotic experiments aren’t over. The company’s Sam’s Club subsidiary recently announced it would bring Tennant’s floor scrubbing robots to all of its 599 stores. Interestingly, the company is also exploring ways for these machines to double up and perform in-store inventory checks; it’s not clear if these will be used only in Sam’s Club locations or extend to Walmart stores as well.

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