Visa’s Africa strategy banks on startup partnerships

Visa has prioritized growth in Africa, and partnering with startups is central to its strategy.

This became obvious in 2019 after the global financial services giant entered a series of collaborations on the continent, but Visa confirmed it in their 2020 Investor Day presentation.

On the company’s annual call, participants mentioned Africa 28 times and featured regional startups prominently in the accompanying deck. Visa’s regional president for Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa (CEMEA), Andrew Torre, detailed the region’s payments potential and his company’s plans to tap it. “We’re partnering with non-conventional players to realize this potential — fintechs, neobanks and digital wallets — to reach the one billion consumer opportunity,” he said.

Africa strategy and team

TechCrunch has covered a number of Visa’s Africa collaborations and spoke to two execs driving the company’s engagement with startups from Nigeria to South Africa.

Visa’s head of Strategic Partnerships, Fintech and Ventures for Africa, Otto Williams, has been out front, traveling the continent and engaging fintech founders.

Located in Cape Town, Visa’s group general manager for Sub-Saharan Africa, Aida Diarra, oversees the company’s operations in 48 countries. Visa has a long track record working with the region’s large banking entities, but that’s shifted to smaller ventures.

visa africa

Image Credits: Visa

Self-driving car engineer Anthony Levandowski files motion to force Uber into arbitration

Anthony Levandowski, the star self-driving car engineer who was at the center of a trade secrets lawsuit, has filed a motion to compel Uber into arbitration in the hopes that his former employee will have to shoulder the cost of at least part of the $179 million judgment against him.

The motion to compel arbitration filed this week is part of Levandowski’s bankruptcy proceedings. It’s the latest chapter in a long and winding legal saga that has entangled Uber and Waymo, the former Google self-driving project that is now a business under Alphabet.

The motion represents the first legal step to force Uber to stand by an indemnity agreement with Levandowski. Uber signed an indemnity agreement in 2016 when it acquired Levandowski’s self-driving truck startup Otto . Under the agreement, Uber said it would indemnify — or compensate — Levandowski against claims brought by his former employer, Google.

In Uber’s view the stakes are at least $64 million, according to the ride-hailing company’s annual report filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission . Although Levandowski, who was ordered in March 2020 to pay Google $179 million, is clearly shooting for more.

“For much of the past three years, Anthony ceded control of his personal defense to Uber because Uber insisted on controlling his defense as part of its duty to indemnify him. Then, when Uber didn’t like the outcome, it suddenly changed its mind and said it would not indemnify him. What Uber did is wrong, and Anthony has to protect his rights as a result,” Levandowksi’s lawyer Neel Chatterjee of Goodwin Procter said in an emailed statement to TechCrunch.

The backstory

Levandowski was an engineer and one of the founding members in 2009 of the Google self-driving project, which was internally called Project Chauffeur. The Google self-driving project later spun out to become Waymo, a business under Alphabet. Levandowski was paid about $127 million by Google for his work on Project Chauffeur, according to the court document filed this week.

Levandowski left Google in January 2016 and started Otto, a self-driving trucking company, with three other Google veterans: Lior Ron, Claire Delaunay and Don Burnette. Uber acquired Otto less than eight months later.

Before the acquisition closed, Uber conducted due diligence, including hiring outside forensic investigation firm Stroz Friedberg to review the electronic devices of Levandowski and other Otto employees, according to the recent court filing. The investigation discovered that Levandowski had on his devices files belonging to Google, as well as indications that evidence may have been destroyed.

Uber agreed to a broad indemnification agreement in spite of the forensic evidence, which would protect Levandowski against claims brought by Google relating to his previous employment. Levandowski was worried that Google would attempt to get back any or all of the $127 million in compensation he had received.

That forecast didn’t take long to come true. Two months after the acquisition, Google made two arbitration demands against Levandowski and Ron. Uber wasn’t a party to either arbitration. However, it was on the hook, under the indemnification agreement, to defend Levandowski.

Uber accepted those obligations and defended Levandowski. While the arbitrations played out, Waymo separately filed a lawsuit against Uber in February 2017 for trade secret theft. Waymo alleged in the suit, which went to trial and ended in a settlement, that Levandowski stole trade secrets, which were then used by Uber. Under the settlement, Uber agreed to not incorporate Waymo’s confidential information into their hardware and software. Uber also agreed to pay a financial settlement that included 0.34% of Uber equity, per its Series G-1 round $72 billion valuation. That calculated at the time to about $244.8 million in Uber equity.

Meanwhile, the arbitration panel issued an interim award in March 2019 against each of Google’s former employees, including a $127 million judgment against Levandowski. The judgment also included another $1 million that Levandowski and Ron were jointly liable for. Google submitted a request for interest, attorney fees and other costs. A final award was issued in December.

Ron settled with Google in February for $9.7 million. However, Levandowski, disputed the ruling. The San Francisco County Superior Court denied his petition in March, granting Google’s petition to hold Levandowski to the arbitration agreement under which he was liable.

As the legal wrangling between Google and Levandowski and Uber played out, the engineer faced criminal charges. In August 2019, he was indicted by a federal grand jury on 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets while working at Google. Last month, Levandowski reached a plea agreement with the U.S. District Attorney and pleaded guilty to one count of stealing trade secrets.

What’s next

Levandowski’s lawyers argue that when the final judgment was entered against him, Uber reneged on its indemnification agreement. Levandowski said he was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy because Uber has refused to pay.

“While Uber and Levandowski are parties to an indemnification agreement, whether Uber is ultimately responsible for such indemnification is subject to a dispute between the Company and Levandowski,” Uber said, using similar language found in its annual report filed with the SEC.

Even if Levandowski’s legal team is able to convince a judge to compel Uber into arbitration, that doesn’t mean the outcome will be positive. Arbitration could take months to play out. In the end, Levandowski could still lose. But the filing allows Levandowski to speak out — albeit using legalese — and share details of his employment at Google and Uber. Among those are details about what Uber knew (and when) about Levandowski’s activities in recruiting Google employees as well as information he had downloaded onto his laptop and discovered during the forensic investigation.

The first cracks between Uber and Levandowski appeared in April 2018, based on a timeline in the court document. It was then that Uber told Levandowski it intended to seek reimbursement for expenses used to defend him in the arbitration, according to claims laid out in the motion. Uber told Levandowski at the time that one reason it was seeking reimbursement is because Levandowski “refused to testify at his deposition through an unjustifiably broad invocation of the Fifth Amendment.” Levandowski had used the Fifth Amendment in the deposition during the arbitration with Google.

Uber never requested Levandowski waive his Fifth Amendment rights and testify during the arbitration, according to the court document. Levandowski said that he immediately alerted Google and the arbitration panel that he was willing to testify and offered to make himself available for deposition before the arbitration hearing.

Levandowski-Uber Motion to Compel by TechCrunch on Scribd

Uber Eats beefs up its grocery delivery offer as COVID-19 lockdowns continue

Uber Eats has beefed up grocery delivery options in three markets hard hit by the coronavirus.

Uber’s food delivery division said today it’s inked a partnership with supermarket giant Carrefour in France to provide Parisians with 30 minute home delivery on a range of grocery products, including everyday foods, toiletries and cleaning products.

The service is starting with 15 stores in the city, with Uber Eats saying it plans to scale it out rapidly nationwide “in the coming weeks”.

In Spain it’s partnered with the Galp service station brand to offer a grocery delivery service that consists of basic foods, over the counter medicines, beverages and cleaning products in 15 cities across the following 8 provinces: Badajoz, Barcelona, Cádiz, Córdoba, Madrid, Málaga, Palma de Mallorca and Valencia.

Uber Eats said there will be an initial 25 Galp convenience stores participating. The service will not only be offered via the Uber Eats app but also by phone for those without access to a smartphone or Internet.

The third market it’s inked deals in is Brazil, where Uber said it’s partnering with a range of pharmacies, convenience stores and pet shops in Sao Paulo to offer home delivery on basic supplies.

“Over the counter medicines will be available from the Pague Menos chain of pharmacies, grocery products from Shell Select convenience stores and pet supplies from Cobasi — one of the largest pet shop chains in the country,” it said. “The new services will be available on the Uber Eats app, with plans to launch in other Brazil states and cities in the coming weeks.”

The grocery tie-ups are not Uber Eats’ first such deals. The company had already inked partnerships with a supermarket in Australia (Coles) and the Costcutter brand in the UK, where around 600 independent convenience stores are offered via its app.

Uber Eats also lets independent convenience stores in countries around the world self listed on its app. However the latest tie-ups put more branded meat on the bone of its grocery offer in Europe and LatAm — with the Carrefour tie-up in France marking its first partnership with a major supermarket in Europe.

It’s worth noting Spain’s food delivery rival, Glovo, has an existing grocery-delivery partnership with the French supermarket giant in markets including its home country — which likely explains why Uber Eats has opted for a different partner in Spain.

Asked whether it’s looking to further expand grocery deliveries in other markets hit by the public health emergency Uber Eats told us it’s exploring opportunities to partner with more supermarkets, convenience stores and other retailers around the world.

As part of its response to the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the company has switched all deliveries to contactless by default — with orders left at the door or as instructed by a user.

It also told us it’s providing drivers and delivery people with access to hand sanitiser, gloves and disinfectant wipes, as soon as they become available. And said it’s dispensing guidance to users of its apps on hygiene best practice and limiting the spread of the virus.

Uber Eats has previously said it will provide 14 days of financial support for drivers and delivery people who get diagnosed with COVID-19 or are personally placed in quarantine by a public health authority due to their risk of spreading the virus, with the amount based on their average earnings over the last six months or less.

The policy is due for review on April 6.

Uber co-founder Garrett Camp steps back from board director role

Uber co-founder Garrett Camp is relinquishing his role as a board director and switching to board observer — where he says he’ll focus on product strategy for the ride hailing giant.

Camp made the announcement in a short Medium post in which he writes of his decade at Uber: “I’ve learned a lot, and realized that I’m most helpful when focused on product strategy & design, and this is where I’d like to focus going forward.”

“I will continue to work with Dara [Khosrowshahi, Uber CEO] and the product and technology leadership teams to brainstorm new ideas, iterate on plans and designs, and continue to innovate at scale,” he adds. “We have a strong and diverse team in place, and I’m confident everyone will navigate well during these turbulent times.”

The Canadian billionaire entrepreneur signs off by saying he’s looking forward to helping Uber “brainstorm the next big idea”.

Camp hasn’t been short of ideas over his career in tech. He’s the co-founder of the web 2.0 recommendation engine, StumbleUpon. He’s also founded a startup studio and incubator, Expa Studios and Expa Labs — which has spawned startups like Haus, which is pushing an alternative model for home ownership. More recently he’s been been building Eco: A crypto currency with an energy efficiency twist.

Uber’s other co-founder, Travis Kalanick, left the company board entirely at the end of last year — having been forced out of the CEO role in 2017 following a shareholder revolt by prominent investors at the height of controversy around Uber’s toxic workplace culture.

At the time, Camp said the culture controversy at Uber had left him “upset and deeply reflective“. And he backed replacing Kalanick as CEO — helping to bring in Khosrowshahi, who remains at Uber’s helm.

Ryan Graves — Uber’s first employee and first CEO — also left the board last year, shortly after the IPO.

We’ve reached out to Uber for comment on the latest board change.

Lime’s valuation, variable costs and diverging categories of on-demand companies

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

We’re wrapping the week with Lime, scooters and the divergence between Uber and Lyft and their two-wheeled rivals. It’s been a hectic year for ride-hailing, but an even more turbulent time for the scooter unicorns that exploded into the venture capital scene in early 2018.

Scooter-focused startups were, at one point in time, among the hottest companies that money could chase. That’s no longer true. This week it was reported that at least one major player in the scooter world is pursuing a painful valuation cut so that it can raise the cash it needs to survive. Lime, according to The Information, may see its valuation fall to $400 million from $2.4 billion as it tries to “raise emergency funds.”

The scooter crisis has arrived as Uber and Lyft have come to something akin to a truce with public market investors, a feat that we’ve covered extensively. But perhaps most notable of all is the differing fortunes between Lime and friends, and Uber and Lyft. The two categories of on-demand transportation are diverging, and ironically, it’s the option that’s human-powered that appears set to come out in the best shape.

Let’s talk cash, profits, margins, and survival this morning as Uber and Lyft prepare to drive straight through the economic crisis, while scooters appear headed for a pothole at best.

Gig workers could get unemployment benefits under $2 trillion Senate stimulus bill

The Senate’s historic $2 trillion stimulus package will make history in one more way: by providing some financial assistance to gig workers.

Late last night, the Senate passed a $2 trillion stimulus bill in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the bill, which makes its way to the House of Representatives for a vote this week, gig workers would be eligible to apply for unemployment benefits. Additionally, the bill would provide $600 per week in federal assistance for unemployed workers for up to four months.

This is good news for gig workers, who have been fighting for companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash to provide them with benefits. In California, there is already a law that would give gig workers benefits, but companies have so far chosen not to adhere to it. Even more, companies like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Instacart are backing a ballot initiative that would enable them to keep their workers as independent contractors. These companies’ rationale is that the gig worker protections law in California, which outlines what makes someone an employee versus an independent contractor, does not apply to their businesses.

Earlier this week, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi wrote a letter to President Donald Trump, asking him to include gig workers in the bill. Khosrowshahi also argued that there needs to be a third employment classification for gig workers that “would update our labor laws to remove the forced choice between flexibility and protection for millions of American workers.

“I am thankful that the U.S. Senate has ensured that drivers and delivery people—along with all independent workers—will qualify for expanded unemployment insurance under the bipartisan COVID-19 relief package passed today,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a statement. “The 1.3 million Americans who drive and deliver with Uber are facing extraordinary economic challenges. Many are on the front lines of this crisis, keeping their communities moving and getting food to people sheltering indoors. Those who’ve lost the opportunity to earn need and deserve this support.”

What Khosrowshahi is saying about workers facing extraordinary economic challenges and being on the frontlines of the crisis is true, but it doesn’t take into account the fact that Uber could offer drivers and delivery workers benefits without the help of the U.S. government. In addition to unemployment benefits, gig workers have organized around better pay, disability insurance and the right to unionize.

The stimulus bill passed in a 96-0 unanimous vote after days of deliberation on the Senate floor. The cooperative vote signals the country’s dire need for financial help, as political leaders from both parties worked toward a quick, imperfect bill that would provide Americans and the broader economy quick relief rather than getting mired in a protracted political back-and-forth over the package’s details.

While speed is key to the effort’s success, some of the bill’s critics are wary of repeating mistakes made during the 2008 financial crisis, when a massive federal bailout package rescued big business and finance while average Americans struggled to recover for the next decade. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders pressed that comparison Wednesday night on the Senate floor, though ultimately voted to approve the measure and move it over to the House.

On Wednesday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) signaled her own objections to the stimulus package. If the House isn’t able to unanimously agree to pass the legislation, lawmakers currently in their home states during recess could return to Washington to cast a recorded vote and hash out the bill’s remaining details.

“With the health risks of travel, there is no easy choice here,” Ocasio-Cortez told CNN. “But essential workers are showing up and putting their health at risk every day, and if the final text of a bill is set up to hurt them, it may be something we have to do.”

Stocks blast higher on expectation of sweeping federal action

There are no free market fanatics on corporate boards the moment the economy wobbles. Today makes the point, with stocks shooting higher on the back of news that a sweeping federal package of aid and stimulus should soon pass Congress. The goal of the financial package is to blunt the impact of COVID-19-related market disruptions that have led to mass layoffs, and an economy expected to slip into recession.

Today in regular hours the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) led American indices by climbing over 10%. It was the best day for the venerable Dow since the 2008 crisis in percentage terms, though the index has posted sharper declines in percentage terms in recent days.

Its kin also rose, if less. Here’s the day’s results:

  • DJIA: rose 11.37% to 20,704.91
  • S&P 500: rose 9.38% to 2,447.33
  • Nasdaq composite: rose 8.12% to close at 7,417.86

SaaS shares, as tracked by the BVP Nasdaq Emerging Cloud Index, rose about 7.2% on the day. Bitcoin saw its value jump by 5% in the last 24 hours, and is worth about $6,600 as of the time of writing. The day may not meet the criteria for a market melt up, but it certainly was a welcome respite from recent weeks’ declines.

The next test for the American public markets comes tomorrow. After posting huge gains today, can they be retained? In the past dozen trading sessions, there has been a market habit worth noting in which any sharp action — up or down — was met with a similar, opposite result the following day. Call it Newton’s third law of stonks.

Ride-hailing get a boost

Lyft and Uber were lifted by the broader gains across all major indices. Lyft rose 19.68% to $27.06, while Uber shares increased 17.81% to $27.38. The companies saw increases even as the ride-hailing industry faces continued pressure amid the spread of COVID-19. Both companies have seen a decline in demand, prompting a shift towards delivery and partnerships with non-profit organizations to provide transportation services to health care workers and others who need it during the pandemic.

On Monday, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi sent a letter to the White House, asking lawmakers to include protection and financial support for gig workers in the COVID-19 stimulus packages. Khosrowshahi also argued that there needs to be a third employment classification for gig workers that “would update our labor laws to remove the forced choice between flexibility and protection for millions of American workers.”

NYC is offering gig workers delivery jobs during COVID-19 pandemic

To help gig workers make ends meet during these times of job insecurity amid COVID-19, New York City is offering gig workers who are licensed with the TLC to help with delivery work.

While the demand for drivers is currently small, NYC says it expects demand for meal delivery to senior citizens and other residents who need to stay home increase. The jobs pay $15 per hour, and offer reimbursement for gas mileage and tolls — something gig economy companies don’t currently do.

“The World is changing around us and many of you are without work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the TLC wrote in an email to licensees today. “You are a top priority for the TLC and we recognize that you are among the hardest hit by this public health crisis. As we look at all possible ways to help you and as we assess needs citywide, we ask for your assistance and participation in the City’s response.”

Those interested can head over to www.nyc.gov/DeliveryTLC to learn more and sign up. Jobs will be offered on a first-come, first-serve basis.

“New York City’s for-hire vehicle drivers have seen their earnings plummet amid this pandemic. Drivers are ready to step up to help the city in this time of great need,” Independent Drivers Guild Executive Director Brendan Sexton said in a statement. “We are thankful that the city sees the value in this workforce and appreciate the Commissioner’s hard work to make DeliveryTLC a reality.”

Last week, both Uber and Lyft suspended their carpooling services in the U.S. in an attempt to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Meanwhile, there have been reports that demand has generally been on the decline in light of growing concerns about the virus. And just three days ago, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered all non-essential retailers and businesses to close.

Developing…

Stocks broadly fall as Nasdaq dips modestly, SaaS gains on the day

The stock market’s movements in recent weeks have often felt like unified action. When one American index fell, the others were generally right there with it, rising and falling in concert. Today wasn’t like that.

Indeed, in regular trading today the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) was down sharply. The S&P 500 dipped a little less, but was mostly in line. The tech-heavy Nasdaq, however, was not. And perhaps even more surprising, a key subset of the technology world wasn’t down at all — it was up.

Here’s how today’s trading left us:

  • DJIA: -582.05, -3.04% (-37.12% from 52 week highs)
  • S&P 500: -67.52, -2.93% (-34.07% from 52 week highs)
  • Nasdaq: -18.84, -0.27% (-30.27% from 52 week highs)
  • BVP Nasdaq Emerging Cloud Index: +21.43, +2.12% (-28.03% from 52 week highs)

The day’s declines did not stem from a single fundamental cause. Some financial publications highlighted congressional inaction as the reason. You could easily add rising COVID-19 infections to the list. (Notably while the public markets continue their dive, private investors are still putting nine-figure capital rounds together, which feels contrarian.)

Let’s narrow more. While the Cloud Index tracks SaaS companies — a key startup niche for the venture class — other industries are making interesting moves as well. Let’s take a peek at Uber and Lyft, which enjoyed a surge late last week on the back of Uber promising not to die, following market concerns about its health.

Uber saw shares rise 3.99% to close at $22.40. Lyft shares also rose 6.3% to $22.61 at market close. The two companies are still below their highs in 2020. Lyft and Uber hit year-to-date highs on February at $53.94 and $41.27 respectively.

Other mobility related companies such as automakers saw mixed results. Ford shares took a hit and fell 7.18% to close at $4 after Fitch Ratings downgraded the automaker to a skosh above non-investment grade with a negative outlook driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. Ford is now rate BBB-.

GM shares also fell 2.98% to $17.60. Meanwhile, Tesla shares rose 1.58% to $434.29 a share.

 

Uber, Ola suspend all rides in New Delhi

Uber and Ola have suspended all ride options in New Delhi till March 31, days after temporarily discontinuing shared ride options across the country in a bid to slow the coronavirus pandemic.

The firms said the suspension of their services in India’s capital was in compliance with the local state government’s lockdown order that went into effect earlier Monday.

“In compliance with the government guidelines, we are temporarily suspending all Uber services in your city. This means that Uber rides services will not be available until further notice,” Uber told customers in New Delhi. A spokesperson confirmed the move.

Ola, which rivals Uber in India, said it was also restricting ride options in New Delhi, but would offer a “minimal network of vehicles to support essential services.”

“Ola will continue to encourage citizens to limit travel only for essential emergency needs as per the Government’s directive. We will enable a minimal network of vehicles to support essential services in cities, wherever applicable, as part of this national effort to reduce the contagion of COVID-19,” an Ola spokesperson said.

TechCrunch understands that Ola is offering very few cabs only to support healthcare workers and others who need to work from outside their homes to support public services.

At the time of writing, no cabs or two-wheeler options were available on Ola in New Delhi. According to estimates, more than 150,000 Uber and Ola cabs roam around the National Capital Region (which includes adjacent cities Gurgaon and Noida).

New Delhi has ordered a city-wide lockdown till the end of the month. “No public transportation, including operation of private buses, taxis, autorickshaws, and e-rickshaws shall be permitted,” it said.

Several other states have also announced similar curbs that went into effect earlier Monday, hours after the nation exercised a voluntary lockdown at the request of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The curbs will prohibit all but essential services from operating. Inter-city and long-distance trains and other public networks have also been halted.

The restrictions come as the number of coronavirus-affected patients surged to 350 over the weekend in India, with seven deaths. Until last week, health authorities maintained that India, a nation of 1.3 billion people, was still at stage two of the outbreak, but a handful of cases in small towns across the country have emerged since.

Governments across the world have moved to enforce restrictions on travel and public gatherings to prevent the spread of the infectious disease. Earlier this month, Uber and Lyft suspended some of their rides in the U.S.